Without Prejudice

You and I have seen this phrase in many situations, but what does it actually mean?

Well, legally it’s effectively a ‘get out’ device. It means that no pre-judgement or final decision has been made about the matter being discussed so using this phrase means that ‘I can change my mind’.

But that’s not what most people understand. Most people find this, at the top of a letter, a bit scary. It looks ‘official’ and ‘legal’ and usually causes them to pay more attention to whatever it is heading up than they might have done.

But if you think about it, about the language, it’s quite clear – more like “I haven’t thought about this in great detail, but here’s what I think and feel at the moment and of course I may change my mind depending on your response”

Indeed, if a court case is closed ‘without prejudice’ then it means that it is allowable that the matter can be raised again.

Whereas, if a case is closed ‘with prejudice’ it means that the matter is permanently closed, completed, cannot be re-visited and so on.

A judgement has been made, and that’s the end of it.

But here’s the thing.

All the time, you and I do things and make decisions with prejudice.

You and I make judgements about people, about events, about what we ‘like ‘and don’t ‘like’, about all sorts of things, all the time.

Mostly these are only innocuous, small, decisions about things and when based on experience and knowledge they help us to live our lives and conduct our businesses effectively.

Based on our judgement, experience and knowledge (in other words ‘with prejudice’), in life or in business, we decide to deal, or not to deal, with specific individuals.

Importantly, we can only make that decision if we have already engaged with that individual, if there has been some sort of contact and some sort of response (which of course can be ‘no response).

My friend Peter Thomson would sum this up as “DDWT” – a maxim that saves those who know what it means a great deal of time and effort!

Before engagement with someone however, you and I should be ‘without prejudice’ -we have no ‘evidence’, no ‘knowledge’ about the person involved, who they are and how they are likely to behave in response to us.

And remember that people may behave towards you and I in a different way than they behave towards others.

But the issue is that most people, you and I included, do make ‘pre-judgements’ about all sorts of things; cultures, companies, political parties, countries and so on. There are very few people in the world who don’t have some ‘prejudices’.

There is one important thing here for you and I to remember.

All of these ‘groups’ that we divide (or are persuaded to divide) people into, are made up of individuals, and it’s really the individuals we should be thinking about, not the ‘group’ they are considered to belong to.

Creating prejudices against whole groups of people is totally unfair and unethical, as it’s ridiculous to assume that ‘everyone’ in those groups is going to be ‘the same’, or behave in ‘the same’ way.

One thing that demonstrates this very well is advertising directed at “Over 50’s”. It assumes everyone ‘over 50’ has a certain mindset, dresses in a certain way, wants the same things, and has similar views and opinions to all the other ‘over 50s’!

You and I can only make decisions about people one by one, individual by individual, and then only in the context of the engagement we have or are considering opening with them.

It takes a long time to really get to know someone well, and then it’s still difficult to predict or pre-judge, how they might react to or behave in a new situation that they’ve not previously encountered.

On the other hand, there are many situations, especially in marketing where it’s quite simple to make a judgement about whether or not an individual is a potential buyer or not – mostly!

But don’t forget, even though they may not be a candidate for some things, they may be for others, so in most cases, the engagement should be continued, until you know them better.

Until we have the evidence, until we have the knowledge about the person concerned, and until we relate that to the situation, we cannot make that ‘pre-judgement’, we cannot create that ‘prejudice’.

You and I cannot dismiss engagement with anyone on the grounds of a ‘with prejudice’ decision.

You and I must always, in any new encounter, engagement, or situation with a new person, be entirely ‘without prejudice’ – until we have enough evidence to make that judgement.

Until we have enough evidence to ‘disqualify’ that person from the interaction with them that we may be considering, but of course that doesn’t mean they are disqualified from some other interaction!

And so it goes on.

I’m off to examine my prejudices.

How about you?