Don’t Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
~ Miguel Angel Ruiz
As human beings, we all make assumptions and believe them to be true. We can’t help ourselves! We are barely conscious of most of the assumptions we carry with us because they feel so real.
We make assumptions based on our (sometimes limited) observations of the behavior of others, past experience and what we perceive they might be thinking. Through our filters we distort the messages and create labels for the other person such as he or she is no good at…. (sales, managing projects, etc).
You believe this label to be real and start to develop a fixed mindset around it. Sub-consciously you will look for evidence to support your original assumption. In other words, we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear, filtering out anything that is contrary to our assumption.
Assumptions can lead to misunderstandings and a lack of communication, because you think you already KNOW the answer or understand what is going on. You can also take things personally and feel awkward about a situation so you ignore it, or gossip about it to others while avoiding contact with the person concerned. You are frightened to ask for direct clarification by having a conversation.
Many of our assumptions remain untested, yet we believe them to be true and use them as a benchmark to discount people. This limits their future potential and any possibilities because we’ve already labeled them.
In other words, it’s easy to write someone off, not include them in something, and ignore their potential for learning and growth.
Assumptions are dangerous!
In a business context, one thing that greatly reduces the creativity, performance and growth of your team are the assumptions that you make.
Here are just a few of them:
- He/she is not good at xxx.
- It can’t be done.
- I don’t have the time.
- He/she is not a sales person.
- It’ll cost too much.
- It would take too long to develop.
Believing your assumptions means that you will write people off, often without even having a conversation with them. Your imagination makes things up when you don’t understand something and an assumption is created about its meaning. Finally, when the truth is revealed, you may find you’ve totally misunderstood the whole situation and gotten it horribly wrong.
Here are some of the potential outcomes of making assumptions. You will:
- Lose trust in others.
- Become more reactive.
- Stop the growth and development of others.
- Miss opportunities.
- Limit the potential of the team.
We tend to look for mirror images of ourselves in others. We assume that others think and feel the same way as we do and make the same judgments. We imagine the truth and don’t see the reality of how things are or the potential for what could be.
If we take time to understand WHY people behave the way they do, then we can make better judgments of their behavior and possibly prevent ourselves from making some errors of judgment.
Here are a few ways to avoid making assumptions…
Have the courage to communicate when things feel uncomfortable – Instead of avoiding a conversation and sharing your fears with others, have a conversation with the person directly. You may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome! Have the courage to ask the questions and listen to the response with the intent to understand. Suspend your own pre-judgment of the situation.
Look for the potential in others – Don’t write people off too quickly with sweeping statements. People’s potential is unlimited. They may not be good at sales today, but if you give them the tools, opportunity and encouragement to learn, you could help them transform their performance (and your business). Invest time with your people; be open to them growing.
Test your assumptions – How do you know that what you are thinking is real? What evidence do you have? You might be wrong! You could be creating a bottleneck in your business because of your own lack of trust. Help others grow and move forward. Check in on your own thinking and turn it around. For example:
- What if he/she was good at xxx?
- I wonder if it’s possible to…
- What if I created the time to…
- What if I developed their sales skills?
Be extra vigilant when the relationship is one you know well – Most people aren’t telepathic… they don’t know what they don’t know! You might shutdown when things feel uncomfortable, especially around people that you know well. You might assume you know what the other person is thinking so you don’t say anything. Honestly, you have no idea what the other person might be thinking or feeling! If you don’t have the conversation, you might create discomfort and tension and give out the wrong message – one that says that you don’t care. The other person can’t read your mind and won’t always understand just because you think you know them well. Find your voice and always establish the truth.
What assumptions are YOU making about others?