I’ve recently been reading about and hearing about certain groups of people who, allegedly, are afraid of other groups of people. Apparently, some of these groups of people even fear for their lives from other groups of people. I chalk this up to idiotic talking heads and writers posing as something they are not.

I also know that perception, in today’s world, is reality for many folks. How do our preconceived notions impact our business? Do we make time to make valuable human connections with people who are vital to our success? Or do we believe what we might read or see on television or on our devices and fall into the trap we were warned against when we were younger: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

How do you make connections with your employees, team members and colleagues? Do you judge them on their clothing, where they vacation, or the type of food they eat for lunch (no, I’m not joking…my colleagues have ‘labeled’ me because I eat salad for lunch every day).

What about the vendors that supply your business, the repairmen who service your equipment? Do you evaluate customers based on their attire, their mannerisms, or how much money you think they have?

Not believing the talking heads, et al, I decided to do some research of my own. Now, I don’t have enough letters after my last name for most folks to take my research seriously, like publishable in a science journal or anything that grandiose. But I’ll take my ‘man on the street’ approach as significantly more serious than the talking heads.

We are on our family vacation, and my first ritual every morning is to take a brisk walk on the boardwalk for 45 minutes. I encounter all types of people along my jaunt, so this was my research thesis yesterday morning. For 45 minutes, every single person that I passed on my excursion, I made the simple effort to greet them with a smiling “Good Morning.”

For the duration of my experiment, I estimate my return rate was about 98%. Now again, similar to my faulty academic credentials, my math skills are equally weak. But in that time span, I’d say about four individuals failed to return my greeting. And those four were so intent on their morning toil that I didn’t hold it against them. Folks riding or running that fast at 6:30 in the morning have other problems.

The African American man who was relieving the parking meters of dimes and quarters responded with a hearty “Good morning.” The Hispanic contractors renovating a burned-out restaurant replied in their best broken English. The elderly couple caressing their coffee cups and enjoying their stroll gave a little wave. The young momma sprinting behind the stroller she was propelling in front of her gave a quick nod of the head and a slight smile. The young restaurant employee with the man-bun and tattoos covering both arms said, “good morning,” as did the township employee emptying the recycling bins at each beach entrance.

No one feared me. No one yelled at me because I had the audacity to greet them with “Good Morning.” Not a shout-down or altercation of any kind. If I could peg a negative reaction, and I don’t necessarily think it negative, is there were some surprised looks from people, but pleasant surprise. Like, “hey, a stranger just said ‘Good Morning’ to me.” I also wondered if my morning greeting might have enhanced someone else’s morning, and maybe they paid it forward. Maybe my positive attitude toward others became a small snowball effect for others during the morning.

How do we combat our preconceived notions? I’m not going to use words like ‘bias’ or ‘prejudice’ because I believe those words indicate negative intent. I believe all humans form opinions of other things: neighbors, restaurants, pets, churches, products, etc. from their life experiences. What you see, what you hear, what you watch, who you spend most of your time with, things that have happened to you, and the things that you’ve done. All the information that your brain and your body have absorbed over your lifespan informs your opinions about things. It’s not specifically positive or negative.

What if, however, our preconceived notions have a negative impact on our business relationships and/or our relationships with our customers? Our preconceived notions may prevent us from establishing meaningful relationships with people who are critical to our enterprise. This lack of human connection then could impede our success. Can preconceived notions create negative impressions in the people who work on our teams toward customers and clients?

My better half travels around the country conducting workshops and speaking to hospital staff about civility in the workplace, bullying and the importance of kindness. Her first mantra is this: Always assume positive intent.

As a business owner, boss or team leader do you have a negative reaction when you see an employee or team member with a nose ring, ear lobe expanders and a sleeve of tattoos on each arm? Do those three items make that person a lazy employee? Unreliable? Rude?

Do wait-staff do back handsprings when they see a customer walk into the restaurant wearing a Rolex, Gucci, and Vans? Are they going to give him extra bread sticks and overpour his Old Fashioned? Flatter him with extra trips by his table to “see if he needs anything?” As opposed to other customers.

The employee with the body art and funky hairstyle might be the hardest working team member on staff. He or she might also be exceptionally smart, kindhearted, and enthusiastic. That apparent whale wearing the fancy clothes might be a pipe fitter who likes to dress up when he goes out, but can only afford to leave a $5 tip, regardless of the amount of his bill.

Do you have preconceived notions that are hampering your business and impeding your success? What are you willing to do to challenge them, and to see things with a new perspective?

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