Have you ever kept a tally of the number of assumptions you make in a day? Me either … until recently.
Due to some work I’ve been doing with a coaching client along with some events in my personal life, my awareness of “assumptions” has become top of mind.
Generally, I think I’m a fairly open-minded person. However, when I began to really pay attention to the number of assumptions I make in a day, it gave me cause to pause and analyze my assumptions.
Without assuming we have the same definition of “assumption,” here’s how I define it: Something that is taken as fact when there is no proof; often preconceived misconceptions about a situation, person, groups, or task. Typically based on past experiences.
There are many assumptions we make that help us navigate our day more simply. Assumptions like: the gas station will have the gas I need to fill my tank; the mail will be delivered by 6 p.m.; the conference call service will work as expected, etc. …
When it comes to the assumptions we make about people, it gets much more complicated based on two key observations:
- Strong emotions fuel our assumptions
- Our assumptions influence our communication, actions and outcomes
For example – if you have a colleague that is long-winded and seems to be incapable of getting to the point quickly, you choose to not answer the call when you see his name appear on your phone. He may have some critical information for you, but because of your assumptions, you delay getting that information because you don’t take the call.
OR – You elect NOT to post for a great job opportunity in a different division because you’ve been unsuccessful in getting a job in that division in the past. You assume since it’s the same hiring manager there is some reason she doesn’t like you or appreciate the skills you could bring to the job.
Here’s the thing. Emotions can cloud your judgment, resulting in making quick and often inaccurate assumptions.
It’s best to resist the instant negative reactions to those assumptions and instead, go into the situation with an open mind by asking yourself, “what else could be true?” and do these two things:
- SUSPEND JUDGEMENT
- ASK QUESTIONS to gather more information and clarify your understanding
- What did you want to achieve when you did that?
- What information were you given about what my role would be?
- What is your understanding of our task?
Making assumptions vs. considering the facts is dangerous and is a common contributor to miscommunication, misunderstandings, misinformation, and, perhaps, destructive conflict. It’s not uncommon for people to assume the worst or select the information they want to hear/believe and disregard the rest.
Give people the benefit of the doubt. Only after you fully check out a situation, should you decide how to react.
Does the new information change anything for you?
Don’t get caught up in being right about your assumptions. Being wrong isn’t the end of the world … in fact, it could be the beginning of an enhanced relationship or new opportunity.
Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.