First impressions are usually wrong.
Just giving you a heads up.
Here is how I know.
There have been many times in my life when I’ve met someone or had some interactions with people that gave me a certain impression of them. At times, these impressions have left a bad taste in my mouth and soured me on that person. Still, I am an adult and in my profession I don’t have the space to avoid people like that.
I had an interaction at work in which one particular woman called me a “bitch” one day and “Hilter” another. Now, before you get all Judgy McJudgerpants I want to tell you a secret about this woman. Are you ready? Shhh…… She’s a human being. She’s not perfect and those moments when she said those things to me were not shining moments for her. What I have found is that when a person acts like that they have something going on in their lives that create a mind space where interactions like the above happen. Please note: I am in no way shape or form saying that this kind of abuse is OK. I’m simply offering an explanation as to why these interactions may have occurred.
I sat down with her and asked her what happened after she called me “Hitler.” She shared that she wasn’t even sure what happened. She also disclosed that she felt so shitty after she said that to me and she continued to feel shitty about it all weekend. She said she was glad I brought it up because she didn’t want to be the elephant in the room. Know what I said next? “Is there any way that I can support you?” She nearly cried. We were able to talk it through and I asked her to stop the name calling and she agreed that she would stop. We’ve been OK since that moment.
I also work with a guy. He’s around 6′ 3″ and he’s big. He has a big body and a larger than life personality too. When I first started at my job one of the first things he said to me while I was getting to know him was “I hate women.” My immediate thought was “Oh boy, there’s a story behind that statement!” At the same time I felt small because of that statement. I am a woman so therefore by all logical reasoning, he must hate me too.
About a month later I was training in a new employee and she asked me how to complete one of the sheets. I was explaining it to her and he kind of sauntered over to us and said to her “If you have any questions let me know.” I was kind of taken aback by this. It just felt really underhanded and misogynistic. First of all, she wasn’t asking him and once I explained it she got it. I looked at him and nicely said “It’s pretty straight forward and she’s pretty smart. I’m sure she can figure this out.”
He lost his shit.
He yelled at me in front of the whole office. Then he sat down in his chair and twirled around to face me and said “I’ve been in this field for 12 years!” I just sat there looking at him and thought “And?” but I didn’t say anything. I figured anything I said would be akin to waving a red flag in front of a bull. So I let it drop. Later I talked to my supervisor expressing my distress about the interaction. She asked me think of reasons why he might have reacted that way and she encouraged me to talk it over with him.
I sat down with him later that evening when we were alone and explained to him that I think I said something that got under his skin. He apologized for yelling at me. He said that it was part him and part me and explained why he had that reaction. I told him that I am a strong person with a strong personality and that I know I get under peoples skin. I encouraged him to talk to me if that occurred and he said he would.
After that though, things remained strained between the two of us. At one point during an interaction about a board game he told me he didn’t like me. I said nothing to him. I just turned around and walked away. He called me back to give me my phone and said “You know I’m only kidding, right?” I took a deep breath and just said “Ya know, I know that not everyone is going to like me and that’s ok. If you don’t like me it’s no skin off my back.” I turned and walked away from him.
There was another time where he was complaining about some of our clients and I gently chewed him out about having compassion towards them. He also complained about where some of our clients were coming from. I brought to his attention that he doesn’t get to decide who is worthy of coming to utilize our services and that the people coming from this particular place have co-occurring disorders. I could tell that my statement had upset him and he left. About twenty minutes later he came up to me and said “You are right. I shouldn’t judge them. Thank you for calling me out.” A small breeze could have literally knock me over. At first, I didn’t know if he was being a sarcastic ass or if he was being sincere. He assured me he was sincere.
In the midst of all this he shared some personal stories with me and it was then that I realized the depth of his pain and that his struggles (or ACES for those of us in the field) had a direct impact on who he is, how he perceives the world and how he processes. It helped me have some compassion towards him and his experiences. It aided me in understanding him and for the first time I wanted to give him a hug.
A few weeks ago he came back to our unit later in the evening to complete some paper work . We chit chatted politely and I asked him how he was doing and he seemed genuinely happy to see and talk to me. He left about an hour and half before my shift ended and when I got in my car he had written “Hey you” on the back window but backwards so it looked right in my rear view mirror. I was like “Did he do that?!”
I texted a co-worker who is also a friend of his and asked her “Do you think he likes me?” She confirmed that he did and then said “YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!” She makes me laugh all the time and she is one of my favorite co-workers.
I started texting him and now we are friends. I have found many things that I think he is amazing at when he’s at work and I have come to realize that he and I are a lot alike. My impression of him at first was that he was a misogynistic woman hater. On second look though he’s just a man who’s been hurt and was afraid to be vulnerable with new people. Plus I feel that I misunderstood him. I am so glad that I didn’t let my first impression impede a friendship like this. We grow from our experiences with other people and I feel that this was most definitely a moment of growth for me.
During some of our conversations he said that he didn’t like me when we first met because:
- I am a strong woman with a strong personality
- I stand for something and I’m not afraid to share it and even if it’s not accepted by the masses I stick to it
- I gave him “the business” about compassion and it changed the way he saw me
- I am strong, opinionated and caring and that made me interesting.
It was really nice to hear that someone appreciates my candor. I’m not always an easy person to get along with because of the above attributes but once people understand who I am they like me a lot….or they don’t. Both reactions are ok.
My whole point to this story is that if someone, upon first impression seems awful or leaves a bad taste in your mouth….Look again. Have some compassion and give them a second chance. After all, wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you? I know I do!
I think THAT is how we change the world!