Walking in to teach aqua aerobics this morning, I looked across the sea of blue hair, wrinkles and skirted suits and remembered the ladies at the swimming pool at my Grandma’s apartment complex in Miami Beach: “Don’t splash honey” they would say, plastic bags covering their freshly teased hair. I was 5…how do you swim without splashing?
So I started off easy, until midway through the class when when of the ladies yelled “can you pick up the speed a little?!”
Afterwards, she said “I guess you saw a bunch of old ladies and thought we couldn’t move!”
Who me? The one who is constantly reminding everyone about the danger of making assumptions based on superficial characteristics of difference? Yes, that would be me and unconscious bias number 632.
Luckily for me there was not so much at stake, I’m sure I will be asked to sub again. But there are a few good lessons learned as a parallel, to remember perhaps for the next business meeting where intercultural communications do matter:
1. Beware of making assumptions about people based on physical characteristics: race, ethnicity, age, ability, gender, etc. (Apparently that can’t be reiterated enough!)
2. Do good research in advance. In my defense, I did ask for the usual format, and once class started asked for feedback, but the former source hadn’t actually taken the class before, and once the class was going, most felt uncomfortable speaking up or saying something directly to me that might be considered negative.
3. Welcome feedback as a gift. Thanking someone for his or her suggestions is a great way to solocit ‘insider’ knowledge. Once you say thanks for the insight, he or she may be willing to share more. When a business deal is at stake, that could be just the ticket to your success.
It seems my assumptions about the abilities of seniors, however, are not isolated, as seen in this humorous German spot (posted below) by Grabarz & Partner (found via Adfreak) for Volkswagen’s parking-assist feature. As in, it’s so easy even an old granny can parallel park it, or can she? “In the middle of the process, the plucky senior morphs into a stubbly-faced young guy in a granny wig, then changes back again,” says Adfreak’s David Gianatasio.
Have you checked your assumptions lately?
Top Photo Credit: Parafield Gardens Swim School