I have always prided myself on being open and resisting temptation to make early assessments. I guess I am not really the one to judge how good (or not) I am…but ‘holding off’ is something I work hard at.
For example, if I ever read an email that seems to make no sense or leaves me feeling frustrated , I will always seek more information before I offer a counter. I have lost count of the number of times when the explanation has been straightforward or innocent. There are very few occasions when anyone’s actions or words have genuine malintent.
Joining a new company has many of the ‘makes no sense’ moments – whether by email or spoken – and even one or two of the ‘feeling frustrated’ occasions. And so I have had much opportunity to practice my ‘hold off’ strategy.
One variation I didn’t expect was the (unavoidable) name association. Colleagues I work with now who had the same – or similar – names to colleagues I worked closely with for years at my old company. In advance of meeting these new colleagues I would always find myself associating their name and face with my old colleague. And then when I met them in person for the first time I was always shocked…’you don’t look anything like what I expected’ was my common first line. This always brought a confused smile from the new colleague…and perhaps not surprisingly really.
So in effect, this ‘name association’ was a case of me ‘pre-judging’ my new colleague…but fortunately only in how she or he looked.
I thought again about my ability to ‘hold off’ this past week when I visited one of our Sites for the first time. Prior to this visit, events had conspired against me. And my only contact with the site, or colleagues at the site, was via email or telecons. I first recognised the symptoms as I arrived last week and found myself commenting out loud that the site looked ‘nothing like how I imagined’.
It wasn’t anything to do with imagination of course. I have previously visited an R&D Site in the same location/country…and – sure enough…or do I mean bizarrely enough – I was expecting last week’s site to look like a totally different, and completely unrelated site I last visited some ten years ago!
Despite the delight of the site, the biggest, and most exciting, aspect of the visit was the people I met. It all just goes to show the importance of holding off on those judgements, and to be fair, although I didn’t really know what to expect…I wasn’t in any way expecting anything bad. But what I experienced was energising and exciting. I met passionate and committed individuals. Focussed and engaged teams. People who wanted to do, and deliver, the best science they could, on the most projects possible and in partnership with as many groups as were available.
All those emails and telephone calls faded into the distance. Any concept about the site, the people and the potential dissolved with the first smile, the first good morning, the first tour, the first answer. I gave a Town Hall presentation. We had an hour’s discussion. Three or four new and good ideas came up in the question and answer session.
I am on another plane flight now – off to meet a different group of new colleagues in a different location and environment. I haven’t been to this occasion before…or met most of these colleagues before. I am working to ‘hold off’ any judgements…but after last week, I am having to work to manage my expectations the other way round. Expecting a great deal and being disappointed is not really much better than expecting little and being delighted.