An Iguana on the Galapagos.

This guy scared me, until I found out he is a vegetarian.

A trip to the Galapagos introduced me to this character whom I’ll call Iggy.  When I first saw him, I had to fight the urge to scream.

Visions of T-Rex from Jurassic Park flooded my brain.  And it wasn’t just  Iggy.  It was the hundreds of his friends and relatives piled up in front of me that seemed off putting.

I made a snap judgment and if I hadn’t spent a little more time with Iggy, I would have missed out on something really special.

As our guide told us more about iguanas and I realized that they don’t bite humans, I could relax enough to take a closer look and get to know Iggy and his buddies.

And to my surprise, I began to appreciate these lizards as the fascinating creatures that they are. The way they conserve energy by lying in the sun so that they have the strength to swim and gather algae for their meals.

Their prehistoric faces started to grow on me.  They look scary but, in fact, are quite gentle. 

My reaction to Iggy made me think about how often we make assumptions about people or situations in our business and personal lives based on a superficial look, especially when they make us feel uncomfortable or threatened. 

We consciously and unconsciously “other” people.

When I ran a department at a nonprofit, I remember a woman whom I interviewed for an administrative job on my team.  Her resume was outstanding.

She walked in with a big safety pin holding her blouse together.

I didn’t listen to what she had to say.  I ignored the experience on her resume. 

She looked sloppy and that was it. A sloppy look would mean sloppy work.

I never bothered to consider that maybe a button came off on her way to the interview and she wanted to be on time.

Here are some of the things I might have done instead.

Take a breath and pause.

When you have a visceral reaction to something, give yourself time to evaluate the situation before acting on it.  Ask yourself what about this person or event has made me feel this way?

Ask Questions to Understand

Take the time to learn more about the person or situation.  In the case of the woman I interviewed, I could have spent more time getting to know her and instead of dismissing right away probed more deeply why she was interested in working with me, learned more about her experiences and given her a chance to tell her story.

Keep an Open Mind.

Be willing to change your perspective with more information. 

Trust your Gut.

I believe our gut instincts provide us with good information; however, our gut is stronger when we marry it with evidence and facts.

There is an old saying that you should not avoid judging a book by its cover.

Galapagos Iggy reminded me of how true that is.