Although I have added the India tag for cultural context, I consider this to be a question on a universal theme, and therefore welcome responses from members all over the world.
Since mid-September I have been volunteering one day a week at a social work non-profit (typically called NGO here in India) that provides non-clinical counselling services for the general public. I am not involved in the interpersonal aspects of their activities and do not interact with the people utilising these services. I am a qualified sociologist and I have been helping the social workers to technically prepare some upcoming research projects.
One of my co-workers there (code name Alice) is a full-time social work counsellor. We are not doing the same type of work but we do interact a bit in the office. She recently called me on the phone in the morning of my volunteering day and said
I need to take my mother-in-law for a medical checkup so I will be an hour late getting to work. Would you give the counselling for the first few clients?
Now I have no qualification or training in counselling and said that I couldn't possibly counsel the clients. She did come late and the clients were kept waiting. Later she accused me of not seeing her as a "real person."
You could easily have given the clients that counselling... I am so rarely in need of your help and my mother-in-law had to see this doctor. We will all have such unavoidable situations. I don't think you even see me as a real person with real problems!
I was quite surprised and asked her what she meant. She said that I was politely formal and aloof with her and never seemed to recognize her personal identity; I was not particularly warm in interaction nor interested in her family matters; nor even considerate of her occasional need for help such as when she had to take a family member to the doctor. Also, my behavior suggested that I had a one-dimensional and uninvolved view of women in general, she said. Note that she is a trained counsellor and has considerably more insight into such matters than the average person.
First of all this question is not about the clash of ideas regarding whether I as an unqualified person should or should not counsel the clients. And Alice is essentially right that I do not exactly see her as what she calls a "real person", which is the interpersonal focus of this question.
A bit of background might be useful in context. The social and cultural atmosphere in the part of South India where we live does not encourage 'friendship' between men and women, and conservative society still views it with some disapproval and suspicion. I am unmarried and have tended to be very formal, reserved and very proper in interacting with women who are not my family members, and especially keep my distance from married women.
That is part of the cultural expectations here, which can also tend to create one-dimensional and remote mental attitudes to women, unless a man has a genuine passion for cultivating friendships with female colleagues/ acquaintances, even at risk of facing a bit of social and personal backlash. (The same applies to women who would like to form friendships with men.) I don't want to be close friends with women in general. I am also very introverted and get quickly tired by interacting with other people. And I am certainly not interested in the details of their family matters.
What complicates the Alice situation a bit is that I find her physically attractive but I don't feel like expressing that in my behavior, and she is off limits because of being married. I am not particularly interested romantically in Alice but I didn't want to be "just friends" with her and certainly didn't want to meet her husband or talk about him. I also never imagined that any of that was relevant to the part-time work I am doing there. So I have taken no interest in her personality or family matters, and that contributes to her perception that I don't see her as a real person. However, the expression of her feedback is something I am willing to take seriously, especially after participating intensively for the past few months and learning a lot here on Interpersonal.StackExchange.
I was also saddened and affected significantly by reading about the very recent death of an adult movie star, the news article regarding whose tragic end was e-mailed to me by a sociologist friend with his own observation that
the world fails to see so many women as their unique selves. We men look at women and often cannot see beyond the physical exterior. It is very sad that the only way for at least some women to express themselves, stand out from the crowd and be taken seriously as real individual people is by that ultimate act of self-destruction. That is why this shocking incident is relevant sociologically to us and also an eye-opener to everyone that more exposure to social media does not guarantee better (inter)personal insight in the digital age.
So I feel that I might try to to address Alice's valid criticism here. My goal is to be more amenable to seeing her as a multi-dimensional individual. That doesn't come naturally to me and that is why I need the help of the interpersonally talented members of IPS.SE: how can I eventually convince her that I was positively influenced by what she said, and am now trying to 'see her as a real person'?