If your favorite form of exercise is jumping to conclusions, you’re going to trip up.
Picture yourself driving around a crowded parking lot on a rainy day. In fact the rain is coming down so hard and so fast that there are several inches of standing water all over the parking lot.
Nonetheless, you park your car and head for the sidewalk and the entrance to the shopping mall. However, when you finally get there, you see a car parked directly in front of the sidewalk. There’s no way to get inside the store without going around the car and through some very deep puddles.
You’re probably thinking, “How thoughtless can people be? How dare they?” You trudge through the puddles, get to the door of the shop you want to visit, shake off the rain as best you can, and turn back towards the parked car to share a few angry, disgusted looks.
Just then you see a lady struggling along with crutches, her legs in braces. She slowly inches her way to the slippery sidewalk, gets to the parked car, falls in, and drives off.
How do you feel now? You’re probably ashamed of the nasty things you thought about that car and driver only a few moments before. Your anger and irritation are probably gone. In seconds, everything changed.
But stop. Take a deeper look. What changed you? The situation was still the same. The car was still blocking the sidewalk. You still had to wade through the deep puddles of water. The only thing that had really changed was your attitude toward the situation. You saw the woman and her plight, and suddenly you understood.
As I wrote a short time ago, it’s typical of people to sit in judgment of others. If they don’t act the way we think they should, we get upset. The trouble is, when you jump to conclusions too quickly, you’re going to trip up.
I think of one manager who almost lost his best employee by jumping to conclusions. He noticed that one of his employees habitually left five minutes earlier than she was supposed to. At about 4:50 p.m., she started to clear her desk, and at 4:55 p.m. she bolted out the door.
This particular manager hated this behavior. It was unacceptable, and on several occasions he had thought of firing her. What restrained him was the fact that on all other accounts she was an excellent employee.
One day, however, the manager’s resentment built to the point where he simply had to confront her. He called her into his office and told her that her early departures had not gone unnoticed. He asked if she had any explanation.
She said, “Yes, I believe I have. I am a widow with three small children. The woman who cares for them during the day must leave at 5:45. If I catch the 5:00 bus, I get home at 5:45. If I don’t get on that bus, the next bus doesn’t leave until 5:45, and that gets me home at 6:30. I can’t leave three small children unattended for 45 minutes. I didn’t want to tell you because I was afraid I would have to leave my job.”
Of course, the manager was no longer incensed or irritated. He moved from a jumped conclusion to a fuller understanding. He promptly made special arrangements for her to leave five minutes early each day and make up the time on special occasions.
You see one of the absolute indispensable ingredients for getting along with others is understanding. Without it, human associations go astray. And DIFFERENCES, IRRATATIONS, SEPARATIONS, AND CONFLICTS START WHERE UNDERSTANDING STOPS.
Psychologist Jack Berg says, “The human mind reaches for understanding like a flower for the sun.” In other words, people are yearning for your understanding. It’s a gift you give them. And it’s a gift you need to be giving at home and at work.
On the home front, for example, husbands and wives are begging for understanding. Indirectly they’re saying, “I know I’ve been grouchy, but before you tune me out and give me the cold shoulder the next few days, please understand me. I haven’t been feeling too good lately. You know about my headaches. I’m worried about our bills. I’m overwhelmed by all the work I’ve got to do. And quite honestly, the kids are getting on my nerves. So, please, before you get too exasperated with me, try to understand me.”
I wonder how many homes are broken because the need for understanding is never satisfied. And I wonder how much needless stress we suffer because we jump to conclusions instead of offering understanding.
In the workplace, the same thing is true. Deep down, the employee may be saying, “I know I don’t always perform the way I should. And I know I do too much griping in the lunchroom. But before you write me off as a no-good employee, please try to understand me. I’ve been distracted by some problems at home, and it’s been hard for me to concentrate on work. But I really want to grow professionally. I want to move up in this company. It’s just that I’ve been in the same job for so long, and that job uses so few of my talents. Please understand me.”
I wonder how many mediocre employees could become great employees if the boss just understood them. I wonder how much untapped potential lies dormant in employees because the boss jumped to the wrong conclusion about those people. I’ll bet a lot. A whole lot.
UNDERSTANDING IS A GIFT YOU GIVE OTHERS. But it’s also a gift you give yourself.
In life you’re going to be exposed to all kinds of events like the ones I just described. You’re going to find lots of situations that bug you. It may be the person that interrupts you when speaking, or the person that talks incessantly, loafs a bit, and makes too many mistakes.
If you allow yourself to react spontaneously, automatically, jumping to conclusions about these episodes, your life will be filled with anger and frustration. You’ll feel miserable a good portion of the time.
You need to realize that you can’t go through life continually controlling circumstances, or people. All you can control is your attitude toward them. And with an attitude of understanding, you will remove a lot of the unpleasantness in your life at the same time you give people what they need and crave.
Action: On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents “Work at understanding others” and 10 represents “Jump to an instant conclusion,” how would you rate yourself? Are you satisfied with that score? What number would you like to be? Choose two simple things you can do this week to move your score one point in the direction you’d like to go. Then do them.