Have you ever been told, “don’t judge a book by its cover”?
In late July of last year, I was walking my dog through my new neighborhood. The lightening bugs against the black night looked like cameras flashing in a dark stadium. It was such a peaceful, pretty night. After several minutes of walking, I noticed a small dark shadow in the background. It was definitely moving but did not appear big enough to terrify me quite yet. I thought, “Ha. If you know what’s good for you critter, you’ll run the other way.” As an aside, my dog will try to eat anything that is not human- squirrels, other dogs, ants, turtles… you name it, he is ready to seek and destroy. My fifty-pound dog noticed the shadow moving and reared up- dinner was about to be served. The thing started coming towards us. “This is a joke?!” The dog got quite excited at that point and loud would be an understatement. Joke was on us. What I came to see moments later was an enormous cat that was literally charging my dog and I- evil beady yellow eyes and razor sharp raptor claws ready to strike. Nothing says, “welcome to the neighborhood” like being hunted by an evil house cat. We bolted.
We got home completely winded. I proceeded to tell my other half what happened and he just glared at me like I was out of my mind. “I am sure it wasn’t that bad… well did you kick it?” Well no dear, I didn’t- kicking someone’s cat isn’t exactly how I planned to meet my new neighbors. He made fun of me for days. DAYS. Not two weeks later, he dove in the front door with the dog after an evening walk, looking winded and sweaty with eyes as big as cherry pies. “THE CAT AMBUSHED US. I COULDN’T KICK IT BECAUSE IT HAPPENED SO FAST AND IT LITERALLY TRIED TO KILL US SO WE RAN.” I smiled and hugged them both.
No cats were harmed in the writing of this blog. While the above is my own mildly comedic reflection of a moment in time when judgment resurfaced, it made me wonder- how many leadership opportunities are we missing by making false assumptions and judgments? Like when someone makes an odd facial expression or is short in conversation, and we naturally assume they’re being a jerk. What if they’re not being a jerk—what if something else is going on with them? What if when something happened, we asked more questions- better questions- rather than assuming we know how the story plays out? Or rather than attempting to “fix” a problem?
Marilee Adams investigates this idea of learning v. judging with her Choice Map and book entitled, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. She mentions that those with a learner attitude will ask open-ended questions- what can I learn from this? how else can I think about this situation? what are my choices? – and are typically positive, thoughtful, flexible, collaborative, and understanding. Conversely, judgers will ask close-ended questions- whose fault is it? how can I prove that I am right? why bother? – and tend to be more pessimistic, stressed, judgmental, reactive, and defensive. Marilee explains that, “most of the time, we’re shifting back and forth between Learner and Judger paths, barely aware we have any control over which one we’ve chosen. But we do have a choice in every moment…whichever path we choose starts with questions.”
So, now I ask you. The next time you see someone making a disgruntled facial gesture or acting short at work, what will you do? Which questions will you ask? Are you judging the book by its cover or are you seeking to learn something new?
After all, it is rumored that curiosity didn’t kill the cat…ignorance did.