Lunch:  What not to Drink–or Think

Let’s say you’re being interviewed over lunch. What should you drink?

a) Cranberry juice

b) Diet coke

c) Tea or coffee

d) Water

One outplacement firm, mentioned recently in the Wall Street Journal, recommends tea, coffee, or water.

That’s it.

Avoid cranberry juice, they say – that implies a urinary tract infection. (And diet coke looks “childish.”)

Hmm. Apparently, someone’s been having an unusual interview experience.

Interviewer: “What’s your biggest weakness?”

Job applicant (trying to be original): “Well, I would have to say it’s my urinary tract. I need to drink vast quantities of cranberry juice.”

Interviewer: “Yuck, that’s disgusting. Too bad - we were all set to make an offer. But when it comes to the urinary tract, we won’t compromise.”

Sound ridiculous? Sure, because both assumptions at play here (cranberry juice =infection, and infection= bad employee) are obviously faulty.

But consider your own assumptions. How do you size people up?

Odds are you do it fast, and based on little data. Your survival, a zillion years ago, depended on this split-second ability to spot friend or foe.

But now, we often read too much into things.

Ever jump from an observation (“Melinda has a lot of paper piled up all over her office”), to a generalization (“Melinda is completely disorganized”), to a gross generalization (“Obviously, Melinda has a urinary tract infection”).

“Sometimes,” said Freud, “a cigar is just a cigar.”

On the other hand, if you’re conducting a lunch interview and the applicant speaks rudely to the waiter, complains loudly about the food, and then, when you go to the restroom, eats all your french fries, well, that’s more than a cigar.

Tip: When assessing others, pay attention to your gut, but also ask, “What’s the data?” Not everything means something.

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Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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