Saturday, April 26, 2014

Of Perception and Reality

It was a Saturday afternoon, many years ago. I had gone to work to interview someone for a senior Marketing role for a company that I was working for. It was to happen at 3 pm. The office closed at 1 pm and I was the only person in the office. I told the sulking receptionist, who had to stay back just for me, that he was to call me when the candidate arrived.

And then I started the long wait for the person to turn up. I did not even care to read the resume. It was just too long … meant the person was very verbose. I was already forming an opinion. At 3 PM, I went to the reception. I was getting angry, how could anyone keep me waiting! I asked the receptionist and he said that no one had turned up. I did see a person clad in a squalid trouser and a tee shirt, slippers and unkempt hair, unshaven, reading a newspaper. I went back to the room. Came back in 15 minutes and again asked and the receptionist said that save that scraggy person there was no one around.

I mustered some effort, went up to him and asked if he was waiting for anyone and he said he was waiting for the head of HR to meet him. His English was faultless, rich. He can even speak well, not bad, I thought. I asked if he was S and he said he was. I asked him to follow me and walked up a lot briskly ahead up the unlit corridor. All that was going on in my mind was – “Oh God, give me the wisdom not to judge him too early, too soon.” I reached my office and sat behind a big teakwood desk. In those days, we were indulgent to a fault. Very British d├ęcor!

Then started a fascinating conversation that was to last half an hour but went on for a full two hours. We spoke about many things and it was easily the best interview that I have been part of. I was listening to a very grounded and wonderful person. At the end of it, I told S that I was very happy about his candidature and that I would get him to meet our MD. We were going to shake hands and at that moment he asked me, “Why have you not asked me about my attire?”

Without waiting for me to respond, he added that he was coming from the cremation ground having laid his beloved uncle to dust and rest. That he had no time to go home and change and wanted to keep the time agreed on and had rushed to the interview. He also added that he was very touched that I had not asked him about it. He said that regardless of the outcome, he would stay connected and left the room.

How do I tell him that it was a great lesson for me? I had formed a negative opinion about him and would not make the cut. And had judged him way ahead of the interview based on what I saw. Between perception and the reality is a mind that is already made up. If the gates of reason were to remove the filters, we can see more clearly. Perception is skin deep while reality is at the heart of the matter. He did not care about his dress, was focused on doing the right thing of keeping time.

Small detail, I still keep in touch with S, who is a CEO of a very large company. A smaller detail, he was from IIM Cal. And did not take the job we offered. Said he wanted a smaller job.