Feast of Assumptions©

My Cleveland friends reading this blog are probably thinking that I’m writing about this past weekend’s Feast of the Assumption in the Little Italy neighborhood of Cleveland, but that event celebrates a Catholic Holy Day. In fact, I’m writing about a relationship and communication epidemic that is spreading by the minute – an epidemic of assumptions.

We all know the old saying and joke: “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.” We say it and laugh, but it’s clear that we’re not taking our own knowledge and experience to heart because it’s rare that I go through a day without experiencing or observing assumptions in action. These assumptions are often involved in texting and email, but they are prevalent in all forms of communication. What makes matters worse is that most of you are not even aware that you are making assumptions and certainly not aware of the negative impact that they have in our communication and relationships.

Assumptions are most prevalent when it comes to people’s intentions or motives. Rather than asking for clarification, we love to leap to the assumptions. More importantly, we rarely leap to what we would call positive or good-intentioned assumptions. Instead, we assume the worst of the other person’s character, motives and intentions.

One definition of assume is to “suppose to be the case, without proof” and thus an assumption is the “thing that is accepted as true or certain without proof.” Notice the common thread – without proof. The reasons for making assumptions are complex and beyond the scope of this blog, but the main point is to become aware of how often we make them, to understand the ways that they create disconnects and breaks in relationship, and to use this awareness to stick to what we know and seek clarity instead of assuming.

In communication, there are two different sides to assumptions – I assume what you mean in your communication with me and I assume that you know what I mean in my own communication. Perhaps we’re just in a hurry, especially in assuming that others know what we mean, but our speed of communication (and leaps into assumptions) are getting out of hand and negatively impacting our relationships, communications, teams and execution. This is the epidemic, or feast, of assumptions.

Nearly every day, someone makes an assumption regarding a text or email that I’ve sent, and the assumptions are rarely to the good. It’s also vital to understand that anything you assume without proof is an assumption– even if (and here’s the tricky part) you later discover that your assumption was correct. The act of assuming does not change just because the facts later support your assumption – it was still an assumption when you made it. This matters because the problem is not whether some assumptions turn out to be true but the fact that the act of assuming is damaging relationships and impeding communication. Even if we occasionally guess right with our assumptions, we are still stuck in the assumption loop and habit. And breaking that habit requires that we dump the assumptions and the drama that assumptions breed and feed.

As with all epidemics, the search is for a cure, and the cure for assumptions is simple – be clear, assume the best and ask. If you are communicating, rather than assume that the other person will understand your meaning, make certain that you are clear with your communication, purpose, meaning and intentions. If you have any doubt, ask the other person to ensure that they know what you mean (rather than assuming).

Likewise, when you are receiving a communication, either make no assumptions or at a minimum assume the best of the other person’s intentions, meaning and purpose. If you have any doubt, then ask what the person meant before you respond, defend or even attack.

Whenever a response to some communication doesn’t make sense, then I am confident that there is an assumption involved. Catch yourself – when you start to say, think or write “I assume,” then stop, assess and ask. If you find yourself being triggered by some communication, wanting to defend yourself or to lash out, then think again – do the words alone support your conclusions? If not, then drop the assumption and respond from a place of trusting the other person’s motives and intentions as either positive or neutral. As always, if you have any doubt then ask for clarification – it’s always the best approach.

Assumptions have become so rampant that we are feasting on them every day in many ways. It’s time to put an end to this easy but destructive communication. Assumptions are easy because I don’t have to ask questions and I can be right in my own mind (if I assume, then I’ve already decided what the other person means even without proof). And by the way, even if you think you have “proof” of what someone means, if their words do not support your conclusion then it’s an assumption. Your past experiences are not proof, merely possible evidence. Your relationship history with another person is not proof, merely history.

Bottom line – let’s turn the old saying into new action and stop making an ass out of you and me!

Comments

  1. Your article is spot on! It is so hard to filter out all of our experiences and interactions which create our set of assumptions, stereotypes, and expectations. If you have the same type of experience with a certain person most of the time, it’s hard to flush that when starting a new interaction. But to get the most out of our interactions, and maximize our own and others results, we need to do our best to start fresh each and every time. Easier said than done, but critical! Thanks Jeff!

  2. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one today.|

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