Today, in the Analysis of Business Problems class, the facilitator took us through some topics around our individual biases. In one of the presentations, we discussed the legendary story of the 6 blind men touching an elephant. We talked about how their description of the elephant solely based on the part of the body they touched represented the biases we have about issues ourselves and how it may affect our decision-making process.
The story touched home and I reflected years ago on my bias, especially in people assessment and staff recruitment for a pharmacy business I co-run.
As one of the co-owners of a family pharmacy business, I was saddled with making the final hiring decision. The business was majorly into retail pharmaceuticals, selling healthcare products and services. When hiring, I let the other colleagues hold the initial screening process and interviews while I handle the last session. My decision to hire or otherwise was usually final. I prided myself on being right most of the time and believed I could make a decision about a new hire and how they would perform within the first 2 minutes of the interview. It got to a point where this conviction about my strength made me very impatient with interviews. It pushed me to have short interviews averaging 5 min and decisions were driven a lot by first impressions and gut feelings.
On one occasion, I had to interview a female candidate for a sales representative position within the company. She came in not in the best of interview dressing and appears sweaty and uneasy. She greeted and sat down at my request but struggled a bit with the initial questions. For me, that was the end; I had written her off as a good candidate. If one did not dress well for an interview, that was it for me. If one could not give a good description of one’s self during the same process, the person has completely lost me. She failed on these two grounds. I had scribbled on my interview note a capital DO NOT HIRE before even I got to the third question.
I managed to go through the last 2 minutes of the interview just to fulfill all righteousness. My mind was made up. In the end, I thanked her for attending the session and informed her that the management team would be in contact afterward on the interview outcome. I heaved a sigh of relief when she left. She was not the candidate from my feeling. She just did not tick the box. Hardly did I know that I was hypothetically looking at the tail of the elephant and taking a decision based on that.
During the candidates’ review process with the other management team, I gave my reports about the sessions. I mentioned that the earlier lady was not on my top list. The other 2 interviewers who handled the selection phase were extremely surprised. They emphatically stated that this lady was the best candidate they had selected and interviewed, and could not understand what happened in mine. They were even more frustrated when I could not give any reason why she was not composed or even made any attempt to determine that. I felt even more embarrassed that I did not probe her further to determine her competency level but based my decision a lot on her appearance and response to the first set of questions. I was biased.
Bottom line, I had to repeat the interview all over again the next day. This time around, she came back blazing and answered all the questions with clarity and sense of purpose. She had a tough trip coming to the earlier interview- she had traveled and just came straight from the car park to the interview. She was not very composed then after the bumpy and long journey. However, in the second interview, she was simply amazing.
We went ahead to hire her, and she turned out to be one of our best staff in the 10 years of our operation. She was a fast inquisitive and eager learner. On top of everything, she simply brought her whole self to work, exhibiting a high level of mindfulness about her duties. Her dedication to work was great and we enjoyed the services she brought to the company.
I have learned not to jump to conclusions in my assessment of people. Sometimes, one has to be patient and a bit more understanding, avoiding our usual bias when dealing with individuals. I continue to improve on my assessment levels now in all my interactions. I try to probe further on issues I would have initially taken a stand on. In addition, I strive to question myself whenever I find I am jumping to conclusions early.
It has not been easy but I usually tell myself, that maybe I am just at the tail of the elephant and may need to see things from others’ perspectives before I take an opinion.
This continuous development was what struck home when the class facilitator today mentioned the story of the elephant and the 6 blind men.
I was one of those blind men.