Author Kathleen Hawkins was once working as an independent
consultant, teaching a business seminar in a high-profile company. The seminar seemed to be going very well. The attendees were laughing, responding, and enthusiastically interacting with each other during all of the group exercises. However, there was one exception: a trainee called Chris. He wasn’t smiling, and though he participated in the exercises he looked bored.
Kathleen was worried throughout the day and kept asking herself what she was doing wrong. She became increasingly focused on Chris and wondered why he didn’t seem to be enjoying the seminar at all. In fact, Kathleen started to experience major performance anxiety. Why couldn’t she reach Chris? How could she be failing, so noticeably, to engage him the way she was engaging all the others?
At the end of the class, as people were leaving, Chris walked up the aisle towards Kathleen. She thought to herself, “Uh oh, he’s going to give me a list of things that I could have done better.”
That isn’t what happened. Chris said, “Hi Kathleen. My Mum’s seriously ill in hospital, in the Intensive Care Unit. I almost didn’t come today but I’m so glad I did. The seminar was great! I really enjoyed it. Thank you.”
Point and Ponder
Lesson: It’s not always about you. Looking back on this incident, Kathleen acknowledges that she could have casually engaged Chris in conversation during a break to discover what was going on. By misinterpreting Chris’s expression (or lack of it) and his attitude, she had made herself anxious.
This, in turn, meant that she risked maybe not performing at her best although, as it turned out, everyone seemed delighted with the seminar and her evaluations were very positive.
There are countless reasons why people think and act the way they do. It’s not always about you. Where possible, prefer facts to guesswork and speculation. If you don’t understand why someone is behaving the way they are, see if there’s a casual, informal way to ask them and find out.
If this isn’t possible, resist the temptation to jump to conclusions, which could sabotage your own performance
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