Respect for the Individual

I was sitting next to a warm fireplace in the lobby of a Virginia hotel this morning, enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. Several other hotel guests were doing the same.

Two men entered the lobby and sat down near the rest of us, sitting across the table from each other. It quickly became apparent that the purpose of their meeting was a job interview, as one of the men started lobbing pointed questions at the other.

It wasn't that I was purposely listening in; the conversation was so loud that no one in the room could help hearing what was going on. The interviewer's entire demeanor was arrogant, and I couldn't help feeling sorry for the gentleman being interviewed. He responded sincerely to the questions, but was clearly embarrassed by the public nature of the inquisition. The interviewer pointed out problems with the interviewee's background and challenged his responses to the questions. I couldn't take it anymore, and quietly exited the room - as did several other witnesses to the humiliation.

Now, I believe that interviews should be challenging and pointed - they shouldn't be sugarcoated. What I take issue with is the public nature of the interview. It would've been fine if it was simply a discussion about the details of the job, and an opportunity for the two to get to know each other. But that wasn't the case. The interview was designed to be confrontational and a chance for the interviewer to flaunt his power.

If the gentleman gets the job (which I hope he doesn't for his sake), I'm sure he'll either go through an orientation or receive a manual that outlines the company's values; one of which is likely to be "respect for the individual." Right.

Training begins during the interview. If someone is treated in a disrespectful manner during that interview, he/she will be, and should be, skeptical of any espoused value of "respect for the individual." Real values are demonstrated through behaviors, not manuals.

This was an extreme example of abusing power, but it was a great lesson for me in how someone in a position of power can easily kill the human spirit through thoughtlessness or, in this case, outright cruelty. I don't think most leaders are as clueless as this guy is, but I also believe we all can accidently crush another's spirit in moment of thoughtlessness due to being busy or under pressure. Most of us would never do this on purpose, but we just might do it by accident. Either way, the damage is done.

As I write this post tonight, I'm still unsettled by the job interview I observed this morning. I can only imagine how the interviewee is feeling.