Here’s a human interest story making its way around the Internet: A mom eagerly opens the envelope containing her disabled son’s grade school class picture, only to be heartbroken to see that he was physically separated from his classmates in a very noticeable way. Eventually the photographer returned to retake the photo, with the boy taken out of his wheelchair and supported on the bench by a caregiver.
As one might guess, some folks are posting angry things about the photographer and the teacher, basically accusing them of being so negligent in their jobs that they should be pilloried. I’d say let’s pull back on that heavy criticism. After all, there’s no evidence to suggest an effort to hurt anyone’s feelings or a deep-seeded antipathy toward disabled individuals. Instead, let’s use this as a lesson in applying social intelligence at work.
Learn, don’t trash
It starts by putting ourselves in the story: How would I have handled this differently? For example:
- How can I be more aware of situations like this?
- If I was the photographer, how could I have suggested regrouping the kids so that the boy in the wheelchair was not isolated in the photo? Keep in mind that you’re dealing with set piece photos, benches, and a pretty substantial wheelchair.
- If I was the teacher, would I have even noticed how the photo might look? If so, how could I have suggested to the photographer and the other students that maybe we could regroup the kids, and do so in a way that made the boy feel included rather than singled out?
- What words and tone of voice would I use to take a potentially awkward situation and turn it into a positive one for all?
It’s not that easy, is it? Our antennae have to be up, and then we have to find the right way to suggest doing something a little differently. I ask myself: Had I been the young teacher responsible for a whole class of kids, or perhaps the busy photographer assigned to take multiple class pictures, would I have comprehended this situation?
Hmm, that very easily could’ve been me overlooking it.
Empathy + soft skills = social intelligence applied
I happen to be trained in a profession (law) where so-called soft skills involving human interactions often are neglected as essential parts of our toolkits. Perhaps that’s one reason why this situation struck me as a learning opportunity about applying social intelligence at work. It’s easy to criticize the adults involved, but, in reality, handling the situation more deftly would require just the right touch with perhaps a bit of courage mixed in.
One little picture, so many lessons.
Photo and article link: Yahoo! Shine On, Jordana Divon, author