When Strangers Meet...
How many times have you sat in a lobby or sat next to someone on a bus or train in complete silence? How many group interviews have you gone to, walked in, sat down, and out of cordial training said hello and nothing beyond that? Can you recall a time that although you said NOTHING at all you were totally and completely judging everyone in the room based on appearance or mannerisms; creating life stories of people you had never before seen in your life?
It seems that as one of the most social and group oriented creatures on this planet we find it extremely difficult to communicate with people we don’t know. Moreover we find it extremely easy to create in our heads what we think to be the truth about these said strangers. I have to say I too have been guilty of such a moral crime. The intriguing part of even saying that is every friend we have was someone, at SOME point, we didn’t know, prejudged, misjudged or otherwise took a chance on. So what’s the difference when it comes to common places and strangers we come across in our everyday lives? Why is our first instinct to judge and categorize? What keeps us from communicating?
I went on an interview this week for what I thought was a one on one interaction with a woman who could potentially be my boss. As I was approaching the building for which this interview would take place there was a young lady walking in ahead of me. She looked like she could have been in her mid-twenties and wore attire that I would readily identify as a “rocker” look: Black tights complete with runs and holes, black Doc Marten’s, a black flair skirt that was a little too high and a lot too ill fitted, a black shirt with black sweater, and gleaming red hair. Immediately I said to myself:
“If she’s here for an interview, that’s TOTALLY not what you wear!”
I even had the audacity to take out my phone and video her on the sly so that when I had the time I could post to Facebook and the world what I was witnessing. Inadvertently making her the topic of a conversation she never asked to be a part of and quite frankly the butt of a joke she herself might never know about. Yet in a world of social media, minute made bloggers, videographers and online personalities, this is something we do every day with no real thought about what it is we’re doing; but I digress.
I knew we were going to the same place as we both searched for the door marked 170. Always a few steps ahead of me I followed her into the door and stood next to her at the receptionist’s desk.
“Hi, can I have your name?” Said the lady behind the desk; she too probably in her mid to late twenties with blue pullover shirt, black pants, flat shoes, hair tied up and probably a bit too overweight for her stature giving her that 'I’m young but I’m frumpy' look. I swear to you I could have clocked her entire life story with just that one glimpse. Needless to say that the red haired rocker gave her name for which I can’t remember because this woman, at this point, was of no real importance to me and in about 20 minutes I would never have to see her again.
“Do you have your resume with you?” said the frumpy one.
“Umm no, I tried to email it but I guess it didn’t go through. I responded to an email and asked if I needed to bring anything in and no one responded so…”
And there they were. The excuses. Typical! Young rock chick with nothing better to do than drink and smoke and party. Probably only here because her parents are tired of her smooching off of them! So as I stood there in my $200 suit, $30 shirt, $20 white tie, and $5 imitation white Gucci glasses I thought,
“Typical! Ready to try and sound like an intelligent individual when the truth is you’re simply not professionally prepared.”
I then proceeded to open my bag; pull out my folder which held at least 20 crisply-printed, properly stapled resumes and waited until it was my turn to be addressed. Thinking all the while that I was going to make the great impression that I was trained to give when going on an interview. The frumpy one, whose name I later found out was Marcy, finally addressed me.
“Do you have your resume with you?”
“Yes I do,” I responded.
“And your name?” She asked.
“Danyol, Danyol Jaye.”
I handed her my resume with arrogant pride and she stapled it to a form after which she had me follow her to what looked to be a small make-shift conference room. Walking behind her all of 10 feet to the door I passed the rocker and thought to myself, “Ha! Later sucker, I’m sending you and those holey tights straight back to the lobby! SEE YA!”
“Have a seat in any available chair and Lindsey will be with you shortly,” Marcy instructed.
I was a bit surprised to see two other ladies in this room. Was it a group interview? Naw, they would tell us that if it were, right? Besides even it was I was dressed to impress so I was unfazed as I just knew I had this interview in the bag.
The first young lady was of Asian descent, mid to late twenties as well (maybe even early thirties) and had on a nice, simple pants suit with pumpernickel blue button up, no make-up and nothing fabulous about her hair. In essence no real competition in the impression department. Nonetheless I said hello to both ladies and took my seat.
Now the other woman was much older; late forties maybe even early fifties. Hispanic with a nice sandblast brown blazer, a floral chiffon, button blouse that was probably a size too small being that the button right at her bust line seemed to be holding by nothing more but a prayer. She had on designer prescription glasses which added to her look of experience and poise. Her hair, though graying, was still full of body and volume, aside from the fact that it was done in a style I hadn’t seen since 1993. Again, in comparison, no one to shout about when it came to first impressions in the look department but definitely someone that made you think she might know what to do, how to do it and how to do it well. Again we all gave greetings and quickly took to filling out this form we were given.
Within 5 minutes the room was filled with 7 other people (including the two I had met on my way in). An older gentleman who had been around more than his fair share of blocks, 3 other middle aged women; one with hair so dry and brittle you could start a forest fire! Another who gave me more soccer mom than career girl. One who was well put together in a black and white pants suit and Michael Kors tote. However, when she turned her head I could see that the edges of her neck looked like they had been mowed with a weed whacker. And lastly? Who would have guessed? The ROCKER GIRL! Instant thought?
“Damn! I thought I got rid of you? Doesn’t matter I’ll murder you in the Q&A.”
As we’re all sitting there filling out forms just fondling with our belongings it occurred to me that we were ALL trying to avoid that awkward silence of being in a room full of strangers; however, we didn’t want to speak! We were trying to fill the silence with even MORE silence. Where, on what planet, does that work out to be logical? Sure I had prejudged every single person walking into this room (hell I’m human) but that didn’t mean that we couldn’t at least have a cordial interaction right? After all we might be here for a while.
Fast forward to the interviewer coming in with the bubbliest personality ever telling us all that this WAS in fact a group interview. She began telling us her life story on how she came to be in LA via Chicago with this company. She then told some personal stories while on the job and finally got to the informational part about the job itself. In all that she said over the next 40 minutes there was one thing that struck a chord with me. She explained that she does these interviews in this fashion because it helps her to see who’s a great fit for the company. She needed to be able to see a group of people and how they interact, how they respond to her and see if there was a passion of some sort in their eyes. It was a fast paced job with lots of high energy people (which is really just code for crazy people who may be caffeine dependent) and wasn’t meant for everyone.
You’re probably wondering why this struck me so. Well, it was apparent that although I left that interview feeling just a bit convicted that, in my own head, I had allowed myself to prejudge a room FULL of people that I never even took the time out to get to know; looking back on the interview process I realized that essentially our interviewer was doing the same thing! As she talked and talked and watched us listen and react to her ‘high energy’ personality it hit me like a ton of those proverbial bricks! This world is built on judgments of people we may never see again in our lives!
We are programmed, conditioned, inundated with being able to pick apart someone simply by looking at them, watching them, observing them but never really having to say one word to them. Now granted Lindsey (our interviewer) has probably gone through this process a million times and has found it to be quite effective. However, on a more social or even human level is this really how we should interact with one another? Prejudging and picking apart people until we come across someone that looks, acts, smells, or even remotely resembles something about ourselves that we can readily identify? Are we destined to go through life ignoring strangers different than ourselves? Does capturing an unflattering photo or video of unsuspecting strangers that we feel we may never see again in some twisted way more acceptable than just embarrassing them to the world outright?
I don’t have a solid answer unfortunately. All I have are my own convictions. I can honestly say I was challenged that day to rethink how I interact with people. I was challenged to go beyond myself and really take a moment to think about how my actions, my ignorance, my uncomfortablility, my want or faux need to share with the world some embarrassing moment of someone else can really destroy a person. And if not destroy that person it definitely alters the fake morality that I’ve justified myself into thinking I still have after doing such things. I think so many of us feel disconnected because we are plagued with two very dangerous and epic diseases ever to face this planet. Two things that have been the cause of breakups, fights, segregation and even wars throughout time. Silence and Judgment. Or worse, Silent Judgment!
So I guess the real questions are: How do we break the silence and how do we limit our judgments of people we know nothing about? I guess we'll have to keep living to find out...
Just in case you missed the point of this blog and/or you just seriously want to know, yes, I got a call back!
**Photo courtesy of www.SandySandMeyer.wordpress.com**