Makes an ass out of you and me. I heard this a long time ago and it stuck. Lately I have been barraged with assumptions coming from friends, clients, in the news- everywhere. In one day I experienced at least five assumptions, 100% which were wrong:
- Call from a neighbor- I assumed the worst and it was good news.
- Learned about a client who thought her poor performing employee will retaliate against her, so she started walking on eggshells, avoiding the employee instead of documenting the employee’s performance problem. Wrong assumption, problem dragged on for months at huge cost to company.
- Neighbor sees me walking a long way from home and assumes I must be in trouble and need a ride. That is a nice gesture, but I was talking a long walk for exercise.
- Person assumes if he asks the boss what he needs from her, that it will feel too vulnerable, and reveal his inexperience. In reality, if he does not ask for clarity, he could go down the wrong path.
- Leader of field service business unit assumes his managers can read between the lines when he states their service level numbers are declining. He assumed they all knew what to do to fix it. They cannot read his vague statements and just ignore the data at their own peril.
Many times assumptions are made based on heuristics- or a rule of thumb. We experienced something last time so therefore one can safely can make a snap judgement this time and will be right. For example: Driving in snowy mountains requires survival supplies just in case of getting stuck. Based on experience, you now have a rule of thumb or heuristic to follow. You assume that mountains can bring sudden weather changes. That just makes sense. It’s a short cut based on experience. We don’t have to learn the hard way each time.
Assumptions can be used in science and research. Testing a hypothesis or making an inference from something we have learned is perfectly natural.
But in relationships, assumptions can be very destructive.
Think about your own assumptions. Are there “types of people” you get along with and don’t? Are there certain styles of communication, or certain ages of coworkers that are difficult to work with? What are your own biases? When do we assume wrongly about others?
During this holiday season, challenge yourself to test your assumptions. Catch yourself before you act on an assumption. Try to open up a bit and see another perspective. Ask someone of a different generation some questions about themselves. Really listen to the other side of a political argument. Slow down your normal reflex to make a snap judgement. Learn to ask more questions. Listen for understanding and hold off the assumptions for your own personal growth.