Sometimes we size up someone or their behavior through our own experience lens. However, we will never know if our interpretation is accurate unless we check out our assumptions.
We judge a colleague’s behavior as inappropriate, but is it really? For example, the body language gurus told us for years that someone sitting with their arms crossed portrays the image that you are not open minded. Yet medical research has determined that people with a wide girth find that resting their crossed arms on their mid-section actually makes breathing easier for them.
Whenever possible it is wise to activate your radar to be curious about your tendencies and delve deeper into the underlying reasons of why a persons’ looks or behaviour intrigues or disturbs you.
Recently I visited Africa on an adventure trip. Our group had donated funds to a local Maasai school for supplies and furniture. The gap between our Canadian schools and their schools is wide as the chasm between our two cultures.
To acknowledge our gifts, about 100 students greeted us with a presentation of traditional song and dance. Those not dancing were in dressed in deep blue school sweaters. They were as intrigued with us as we were with them and their rural surroundings. In the sea of faces, I noticed two ten year old boys animatedly focused upon one of the members of our group. One boy was using gestures to get his friend to look at this woman. My mother tongue is sign language so I could engage my highly developed radar for non-verbal language to figure out what they were talking about.
The woman had braces on her teeth and obviously this was something very new to these two boys. In Maasai beauty traditions, it is customary for women and men to pierce their earlobes and insert 6-10”metal hoops in the stretched openings. I deduced that these boys figured the braces were simply another form of metal jewelry attached to another body part. Their faces and gestures radiated with excitement about their find.
I arranged for them to get a close encounter with my friend so they could see her ‘bejeweled’ teeth. Though we didn’t speak the same language, we had commonality in our smiles, laughter, and the signs used to get across our shared delight. This particular moment in time is now etched in our minds that we can recall any time we wish.
Behavior can span a spectrum from the unusual to the extraordinary; from competitive to compelling, yet you won’t know where someone is coming from unless you make time for further investigation.
Everyone has a good reason for doing what they do. It may not fit your interpretation, experience, or value system, however for them it makes sense. Activate your radar, be curious, and invest time in checking out these differences.
P.S. Here is a Canadian story for you. Check out John Davidson’s trip. He is the founder of the charity Jesse’s Journey and has raised $10 million for cell and gene therapy research. He is the author of the book The Right Road.
Lloyd Robertson said of Davidson’s book, “Compelling and inspiring…a dedicated father demonstrates how a powerful commitment can make a difference.” It’s worth the read.