Putting people in boxes
How we see and interpret the world around us is through particular lenses. That includes how we view individuals in our team or organisation. So, what does it mean to check your people paradigms? A paradigm is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns. By nature, they are habit forming. And we often put people into these paradigms as a frame of reference. We base this off a moment in time. Often how we first perceived them or a situational experience we had with them. But people are not static, we all grow and change over time. We all put people in certain boxes, but we need to challenge ourselves to make sure it is justified.
Our frame of reference
Some years ago, a young guy we will call “Mike” joined my IT operational support team from the legal department, where he had been helping out with back-office duties. Being a recent graduate, he wanted to get into the IT field, and I had an opportunity. As the most junior member of the team, he was provided training and development opportunities. He was great with customers, but naturally struggled early on with some of the technical areas of the role so was reliant on more experienced staff.
Years later, we crossed paths again in a different organisation. He had become a technical Project Manager. The project he was working on was reliant on my team, and one day he came to one of my team meetings and asked for an update on progress. The team had a major problem to resolve the week prior, that he was unaware of, so was running behind on his task. When he challenged the lack of progress, I took offence. Sadly, I reacted badly and sent him packing from the meeting in a rather abrupt and public way.
The problems it can cause
The problem was, I still saw him as a junior who had overstepped the mark demanding something from my team. That outdated frame of reference had shaped my reaction and response. On reflection, I soon realised that if it had been another Project Manager, I would have explained the reasons for the delay and worked with them to come up with a solution. Instead, I reacted badly based on an incorrect paradigm. While I sought him out to apologise, the damage was already done. I know he never really got over it, and his paradigm of me changed from someone who originally helped him early in his career, to someone who publicly humiliated him.
This is why it is important we check our people paradigms. They strongly influence our relationships with those around us but are made in a snapshot in time. We may find we are doing others a disservice, missing opportunities to get the best out of people, or damaging our relationships. It is worth serious reflection to check how and why we view others the way we do and correct any bad assumptions.
How to check your paradigms
- Confidentially, list the names of people in your team. Categorise each against skillset, professionalism, and chances of promotion.
- Suspending your current view of them, ask yourself:
- How could they earn there way up a level in your mind?
- Comparing the skills and achievements between team members, are you being fair? Are you treating two members differently because of their background or past interactions you have had with them?
- What about your own paradigm? How do others view you?
- Ask a trusted colleague about how they percieve you, as a leader, professional, and skills development?
- What about your boss, or people who can influence your own career? How do they perceive you?
- Be patient, but also be a grown up. The above exercises takes honest introspection, reflection, and a willingness to change your own mindset.
Other related articles
Also see our related article on unconscious bias, located here.