Are you believing without really seeing?


Did you know that the police now catch more criminals with CCTV than with DNA? According to a BBC documentary,  CCTV footage is increasingly being used to link multiple crimes, and catch criminals. Not everyone thinks surveillance is a great idea of course, as CCTV conjures up images of George Orwell’s  1984, where ‘Big Brother’ watches our every move, BUT the concept of the watchful eye might just help you practice People Voodoo.

Imagine if you looked at all situations as if through CCTV; if you could switch off your emotion, personality, life experience, values or upbringing and just capture the raw facts before carefully drawing conclusions.

Unlike Agatha Christie’s fictional Hercule Poirot, who painstakingly applies the ‘little grey cells‘ to the situation before unveiling a murderer, most of us are a little more fast food than slow cooker about judging others. Let’s face it, we don’t often have the time to challenge our own conclusions or check the accuracy of our assumptions.

‘He attends a meeting without saying a word’ quickly becomes ‘he’s not very confident’ and ‘she re-reads her e-mails several times’ translates to  ‘she’s obsessive’.

When you strip back to what can be seen on CCTV and then try applying alternative motives to the behaviours and events you see, judgement turns to curiosity and you become a people detective. At work this curiosity could mean the difference between a complementary working relationship or one riddled with misunderstandings and conflict.

If for example, I type quickly and struggle with proof reading my own work, then a colleague with high attention to detail has the potential to be my worst enemy or my closest ally. I’d probably have a good working relationship with them if they don’t want me to make a fool of myself and offer to help me by having a quick look. I’d be less likely to value them as a colleague if I heard them openly comment that ‘typos are just a sign of laziness’ seconds before sending me an e-mail pointing out my typo on page 3.

If this is an area of People Voodoo that you’d like to hone, here is something to get you practising.

Activity – Get behind the camera (not literally!)

Step 1 – Like a CCTV camera, become a keen observer of what people do and how they do it. Later, review your own mental footage and be careful to separate what actually happened from what you think, feel or presume to know about why. It takes some practice.

Example: Matilda arrives 5 minutes late for the 9am team meeting 4 Mondays in a row. When she does arrive, she enters quickly, keeping her head down, and takes a seat at the back.

Step 2 – Notice if your reaction is one of judgement or is open and curious. If it is judgemental, try to come up with some alternative options.


Option 1 – Judgement

Matilda has terrible timekeeping, isn’t committed to the job and doesn’t respect everyone else’s commitments.

Option 2  – Open minded and curious

There is a reason that Matilda is late every Monday. I don’t know why. I wonder why that happens. e.g.

  • Matilda’s contract doesn’t start until 9.30 but she makes an effort to get here early on a Monday for this meeting and doesn’t want to disrupt the meeting.
  • Matilda has an 8am meeting at the other end of the building and this is the fastest she can get here, because they always run over.
  • Matilda is nervous about these meetings because there is someone in the room who bullies her. It takes her the best part of 10 minutes to build up the courage to come and she feels really awkward when she arrives late but tries to hide it.


Just Remember – Observing or asking yourself questions doesn’t improve your working relationships, in the same way that watching CCTV doesn’t catch criminals. You do need to take action. Try starting with a simple question, e.g  I see we both attend the 9am meeting but never sit next to eachother. How does that happen?










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