It’s nothing groundbreaking here. In fact, it’s probably one of the first expressions that we learn as young people—never judge a book by its cover. However, we seem to miss the meaning quite frequently. In fact, passing judgements has become so commonplace that often we don’t even realize when we’re doing it, especially when it’s presented as a form of flattery—as most likely to succeed or best dressed, according to your high school yearbook, for example.
Though it’s apparent why passing judgements can be very hurtful, it also can be destructive in the workplace. Just because someone looks young or inexperienced does not necessarily mean they’re close-minded or lacking a thirst for knowledge. Similarly, just because someone is older and more seasoned in a particular industry does not indicate they are past their prime or have stopped learning new skills. Giving someone a chance, not just in a personal but also in a professional environment, is particularly important in this day and age.
It’s easy to Google the attendees of an upcoming meeting and draw conclusions based on their online profiles. While apps like LinkedIn can help you do your research, be careful how you use them. Focus on leveraging the information to make connections with people, not to alienate them, especially before you’ve even met or spoken to them directly.
I should caution against my point being misinterpreted though. As a book publishing professional, I would be misleading you if I suggested that there’s little value in creating a book cover that is exciting and presentable—that helps draw readers in and gives them an indication about the story in the interior pages. To follow the analogy, presentation of oneself, especially in a business environment, is extremely important. People should know that you are serious about the work to be done. However, what they should not do is make assumptions regarding the full narrative that you have to tell.
The next time someone suggests that that woman working in the sports industry might not be fully informed or that that guy with the “baby face” working in the local museum must be someone’s assistant, it’s alright to correct them without accusing them of purposely stereotyping (I’d argue that it’s okay to give them the benefit of the doubt—perhaps they were confused—on the first offense). Putting in a little extra effort to show them you’re knowledgeable about what you do—despite their initial perception—should not only earn you their respect, but should give you an extra sense of self-validation as well. Of course, if this behavior continues, I’d recommend not working with them. If they haven’t learned the meaning of “never judge a book by its cover” at this point, it’s possible they never will and that your time is better spent fostering healthier relationships.
Julie Perry edits nonfiction sports books at Skyhorse Publishing. She is also a part-time tutor in New York City. In her free time, Julie enjoys cheering for her favorite sports teams (especially the Mets), reading, writing and eating lots of sushi. A graduate of Brandeis University, Julie received her Masters degree from New York University.