There’s no doubt in my mind that 4 women sitting around a table having a meal almost always think they are the real-life Sex and the City. And there’s no doubt that 3 of the 4 women think they are Carrie Bradshaw … Well, you’re not!!!

Because I am … At least in this story.

A couple weeks ago, I was having lunch with my work friends and we got to talking about stupid things men do (Sorry guys!). One of the friends had recently started dating a new guy who was displaying some of the same undesirable characteristics as a guy she’d dated before. She was asking our opinion on if we thought she was being too hard on herself or too hard on the guy or if she was on target and should walk away before things got worse.

The things my friends said in response really struck me.

  • One said “Men and women are different. Men either trust or they don’t. Women trust in categories. Is he stable? Is he faithful? Is he good with money? Kids? Housework? Is he good in bed? I say if he’s trustworthy in most categories, you should hang in there.”
  • The other said “This doesn’t sound like a big deal to me. It sounds like you’re punishing him for all the stuff men before him have done. That’s not really fair.”

My response was to identify and clearly communicate the problem behavior, explain why it was a problem, what he should do to correct the problem, and how you would handle the situation if the problem persisted — up to and including termination of the relationship … Sorry. My HR brain never really turns off. To me, all successful relationships are about successful performance management and development planning.

And I began thinking about my other friends’ responses through the HR lense. And I’ve been hovering there ever since.

First, let’s talk about trust. Is it a do or don’t thing? Or is it ok to trust people in categories?

Take me, for instance. I kinda suck at Excel. I can put together a spreadsheet with all the fancy functions and links, but I am pretty slow at it. However, I rock at employee relations — my interview, counseling and documentation skills are kick-ass. So should my boss not trust me at all because I am deficient in one area? Or more than one area … since I also can’t make a good pot of coffee? I would say the answer to that is “no.” However, if I was deficient in critical areas — like I failed to meet deadlines or I was tardy every day or I regularly yelled and bullied the rest of the staff and employees — THEN there’s cause for alarm. So on that issue, my conclusion is: trust can be categorical — and some categories should weigh much, much heavier than others.

Know and articulate your deal-breakers.

So that brings us to punishing the next guy for stupid stuff the last guy did. Is that unfair? Or is it wisdom?

Certainly, we should treat and judge people according to their own actions and behaviors. However, the behavior patterns of similar types of people are similar. People who cheat on their significant others or people who are chronically absent from work will all display similar behaviors. And if you observe a similar pattern and decide to address it, I don’t really see anything wrong with that. If not, you could end up repeating the same destructive patterns with the people you date and with the people you hire and/or manage. Then you’ll become a jerkface magnet!

Learn from your previous judgement errors and make better choices going forward — but don’t let yourself become so afraid of making another bad choice that you become unable to make any choices at all.

The most important lesson from that lunch is to always believe in your ability to make appropriate decisions. Whether it’s in love or at work, the person you ultimately have to trust and be able to address negative performance patterns with is yourself. Self-confidence and self-awareness are critical skills! And life’s demands, decisions and opportunities won’t always wait for your next girl’s lunch …