This weekend I had an encounter with a Peeping Tom.
(And, I’d like to add, my goal for this message is to turn this encounter into a leadership lesson.)
Last Saturday, I was shopping with my daughter on the hip Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.
We were in the dressing room of Wasteland, which is a popular vintage shop in the neighborhood.
My daughter was using the dressing room as I sat in the seating area close to her room.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement in the dressing room next to hers. I saw shaking hands open and close the curtain. This happened repeatedly over a span of a few minutes.
Curious as to what was happening, I got up and stood in front of my daughter’s dressing room.
Once again, I saw the shaking hands cautiously move the curtain back and forth, which revealed a sliver of a man’s face. (Important to note, many of the shops have co-ed dressing rooms).
I said through the curtain to the man, “Excuse me, is there a problem?”
At the same time, I saw the mirrored reflection behind me, and in full view was my daughter’s near-naked body though a small crack of her curtain that was near, but not ‘all-the-way’, closed.
I realized what was happening. He wasn’t using the dressing room to try on clothes; he was using it to take a peek.
Blood rushed through my veins.
I suddenly whipped open his curtain and demanded, “Are you watching my daughter get undressed? Are you looking at my daughter?”
Shocked, he nervously stammered, and then suddenly ran out of the dressing room.
As he ran, I yelled “That man is a Peeping Tom. He’s a Peeping Tom” to alert the store staff.
He was already out of the store before they could catch him.
As I reflected back on the moment, I questioned whether or not I responded in an emotionally intelligent way. I must admit… I felt some shame. Perhaps I could’ve handled it differently?
As I mention in my book, I Get To: How Using The Right Words Can Radically Transform Your Life, Relationships and Business, I discuss the importance of the pause to ensure your communication comes from a place of response, not reaction.
Obviously this is a complex scenario; “Peeping Tom” acts are a misdemeanor in the State of California, and pausing did not feel like a tool I could access in the moment.
So after a few reflective days thinking and writing about the encounter, I’ve listed a few leadership lessons that I believe would be helpful to us all.
Leadership Lesson 1: Don’t shame your brain
Our brain makes thousands of split second decisions throughout the day. It does so to keep us alive and safe. When our brian makes quick decisions, empathy is dramatically reduced. When our amygdala is sending fright, flight, or freeze signals throughout our body, the last thing we want to do is pull up a chair and have tea with a stranger causing us (perceived) danger. So if you (over)react instead of respond, acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, assess whether they are appropriate for the situation at hand, and move forward with self-awareness and forgiveness. Feeling shame around what your brain does naturally doesn’t lead to lasting change.
Leadership Lesson 2: Speak Up!
There’s a saying, “When you see something unusual, it’s either a threat or an opportunity.” And I’ll add, “When you see something unusual, and you determine it as a threat, let others know immediately.”
Because I voiced my concerns in the moment, the store management was able to pull the video, get a picture of the guy, and report to the police.
Now if you speak up without all the facts, and you happen to be wrong, take ownership and responsibility. Apologize to those involved.
Leadership Lesson 3: Understanding unconscious bias in your split decisions
Unconscious biases are learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, and deeply engrained in our spilt-second decisions (which we make thousands of in a day).
With that, humans are “evidence collectors”, meaning we collect evidence like garbagemen/women collect garbage. Daily, we look for evidence to prove these learned stereotypes right (or wrong – depending on your perspective).
As I whipped open the curtain, I saw that the “Peeping Tom” was a man in his 60s. When I saw that, I subconsciously collected evidence that the “dirty old man” stereotype was correct. Through reflection, I saw my own biases at work, and that I may not have reacted that way if it was a woman, or teenage boy.
Ok, that was a lot to unpack in one e-mail. Thank you for being patient.
Now, I’d love to hear from you…
What lessons did you learn from this story?