First Impressions

I was working out in the gym the other day, and I approached another person to ask whether a pair of weights next to them was free. My timing want great: that person had just begun lifting a different pair of weights, and so I stood and waited.

When they were done, they grudgingly said “you don’t talk to a person in the middle of a set. What do you want?”

“Are those weights free?

“No, I’m using them” (still stands there not using them)

“When do you think you’ll be done with them?”

“15 minutes or so”
This is an absurdly long time for a lifting session, and I had a hunch this person was trying to aggravate me, still I made another try.

“Do you think we could share them during this time?”

“No! Absolutely not. You can get one of the powerblocks instead”

I composed myself. “That’s OK, I’ll wait”

I took a mat and did some stretching. As I had hoped, since I didn’t give any excuse to fuel the person’s anger, after a minute or two they returned the weights to the rack and caught my eye to make sure I noticed.

At the time, I was quite shocked by that person – this is the rudest someone has ever been to me at work in 7 years.

Here’s the interesting twist: I was in the middle of a role transition, becoming a manager of a new team. When I came to meet the team – you’ve guessed it – Weights McWeighty was a member.

How do you overcome such a terrible first impression? McWeighty dug themselves deep into a hole they would have a hard time climbing out of.

I was clearly the one with leverage in the situation. On top of being the manager, I was more importantly the one who was able to say “I forgive”. That power allowed me complete freedom in choosing how I want our relationship to unfold.

I find it really important to tell myself the story differently, more empathetically. For instance, Weighty might have had a tough day; a testosterone rush as part of the workout; had someone else pester then earlier during the workout. I try to leave sufficient room for doubt so that my own resentment and anger are at least partially replaced with a fair amount of doubt.

When I first walked into a one-on-one meeting with a red-faced, apologizing Weighty McWeights, I realized this could be a critical moment early in the team’s life. How do you work yourself out of such a situation?

“We didn’t get acquainted in the best circumstance” I opened, “and I can’t say I forgot all about our gym unpleasancy. But we can work together to undo the bad start. Let’s give each other the benefit of doubt and work damn hard to prove each others’ first impression wrong.