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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

To each his own

Joseph Mills recommends surrounding yourself with many different types of people to get the best out of everyone



We are surrounded by walking, talking encyclopedias

One thing that never fails to amaze me is the sheer scale of how different people are, and how great that can be. 

Starting with the little things we differ in, such as IOS or Android; Adidas or Nike; at what point to put the milk in, first or last, when making a cup of tea; the people who remember the lyrics to Mr Brightside and those who don’t; lace or velcro… the list is endless.

If anyone reading this has had the pleasure of following Benedict Cumberbatch on his suave adventures as Sherlock Holmes, with his impeccable ability to learn so much about a person from just a glimpse, they will know how difficult it can be not to fall into the trap of attempting to assess everyone they meet in the same manner. When I was living with my parents, my Sherlock skills were only just good enough to be able to judge whether it was my mum or dad walking up or down the stairs, just by sound and vibration.

Trying to follow Mr Holmes’ footsteps, however, is way out of my league. But it did get me thinking. Before we have a spoken word with someone to get to know them, we already have anticipated who they are to some extent. Whether that is by their appearance, their reputation, title, grammar and lexicon via email; whatever it is, consciously or not, we anticipate it. It is almost as though we are hardwired to judge a book by its cover, which morally doesn’t quite sit well with me. The judgments we make of people are ones that are generalised from our experiences. Sound familiar? Our own GLM in our head.

Research from across the pond at New York University in 2014 provided significant evidence that we make judgments on whether someone is friend or foe, and their trustworthiness, from just a 50-millisecond glimpse of a face, before we even consciously see it.

So it is unavoidable, we can’t help but make assumptions which may well be shaped by stereotypes and biases, prior knowledge, and other aspects of social cognition. For me, it makes sense, to the best of my ability, to respect but not allow the initial judgment to overwhelm the parts of my thoughts I can control, which is really quite important.

Another barrier to seamlessly working in harmony with the rest of the department and then being able to find those key people who will help me in my career is the fear of approaching, talking and working with those that are older and/or more experienced than myself. Why? Because of my initial judgments of what they may be like. 

It really is strange to now be in an environment working with people in an age range that I have only ever had to talk to either as family member, teacher, coach or doctor when I myself still feel like I’ve only just worked out how to turn a washing machine on. I’m an adult now? Surely not. Age is just a number, I tell myself. But age is also a clear indicator of experience, and experience can be intimidating. After all, I don’t want to make any seemingly silly mistakes in front of the actuarial and managerial gurus, masters and sensei. But as I slowly got to know more faces and personalities, it became apparent that my worries and preconceptions were the only issues I had. Opening up and being more confident with others, especially those more experienced, has taught me far more than I would have learned by sending them a fleeting email. We’re surrounded by walking, talking encyclopedias – why I haven’t tapped into that knowledge before is beyond me. And I really believe that these past couple of years have enabled me to flip that initial judgment on its head.

Working in an environment where there are a variety of ages, experiences, interests, beliefs and the occasional odd person that puts the milk first in their cuppa is for the better, as it will only broaden your mind and enable you to see far more perspectives and methods of how to work. Even as I sit here writing this in my laced up Nikes, humming Mr Brightside while procrastinating on my iPhone and sipping my tea (stewed for one minute with a dash of milk after) I am contemplating why I like Tetley yet the other half likes PG Tips and that maybe... I should try something new.

Joseph Mills is joint student editor