Embracing Assumptions

I know what you’re thinking. “Jeff, are you insane? Assumptions are bad. In fact, Jeff, I’ve heard you speak about NOT making assumptions. And what about the old saying, ‘When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.’ What’s up, Jeff?” Okay, I get it. Admittedly, this is a big shift for me, though you already know that I am crazy (if not insane). It’s just that I recently gained a new awareness about assumptions that is quite enlightening, so bear with me for just a moment.

First and foremost, I still stand by the truth that the biggest reason not to make assumptions is that they can simply be avoided by open, direct and honest communication. If I ask, then I don’t have to assume. If I tell, then someone else doesn’t have to assume. In other words, assumptions are the outcome (in part) of a lack of communication (or at least full and honest communication). I also still believe that assumptions are at the root of most communication and relationship disconnects, but personally and professionally. However …

What struck me while at a speaking engagement this week is one other reality of assumptions: assumptions are always negative – at least the assumptions that create relationship and communication disconnects. When we don’t have all the information, we don’t assume the best – we assume the worst. When there are unknowns, our natural inclination is to fill that unknown space with the worst case scenarios. For example, when a fellow team member quits his job (or is fired), we assume that something’s wrong with the company, that things are going badly and that the future is uncertain. When we don’t hear back from people in response to a phone call, text or email, we assume or conclude that they’re rude or that they’re just not interested in us. In general, when someone doesn’t communicate the way we’d like, we assume that there’s some “issue” going on.

I remember well a text from someone several years ago asking me if I was interested in helping with a project. I was driving at the time, and I responded “Sure.” The response I got was something to the effect of “Why aren’t you excited about helping with this project?” When I indicated that I was happy to help, the person told me that someone else had texted back “I’d love to help.” Since I only texted “sure,” they interpreted (assumed) that I was not that (or as) interested. Assumptions.

Think about the last time you dealt with (or made) an assumption. And let’s be clear: anything you conclude about a situation or person that is not verifiably factual is an assumption. I’m guessing that your assumption was to the negative or to the worst. For some reason, assumptions have become the bastion of negativity, and THAT is the trouble with assumptions (not the assumptions themselves).

So here’s the shift – what IF we purposefully made assumptions to the good, the best and the most positive? What if, whenever you were confronted with situations or information, you assumed the best of the situation, the person and everyone involved’s intentions. How often do we engage in communication (sometimes in person, but often via text or email) in which we conclude that there’s another message beyond the words? Think of all the times when you’ve received a written communication and were bothered by the person’s “tone” or “attitude.” Often, the written word lacks “tone” or “attitude,” and we make relational disconnects based upon the assumptions (of intentions or motives) that we make and attribute to the other person. We also make assumptions about the written words based upon prior interactions or issues with the writer.

I am currently reading Brené Brown’s Rising Strong (2015), and she writes about one of her professors and his “hypothesis of generosity.” Simply stated, this involves making the “most generous assumption you can make about [a person’s] intentions or what this person said [or did].” What IF we made these positive, affirming and generous assumptions about people, their actions and their intentions? Even when people’s  words or actions are difficult to attribute to positive motives, what IF we assumed that they were doing the best they could and recognized that we didn’t know what they were dealing with (usually unrelated to us) that might impact the what and how of their actions or communication?

Personally, I love this approach, though I admit it’s challenging. I have times when I falter and struggle with making the most generous assumption, but I love the idea and work diligently at giving people the benefit of the doubt with these positive assumptions.

What do you think? While I still would love to see more complete and honest communication, I’m a fan of this type of positive assumption in terms of communication and relating to other people. It may seem radical, and I’ll admit it’s not always easy to do, but I invite you to embrace positive and generous assumptions in all aspects of your life. It will change things, people and relationships for the better – I know it (without assumptions).

Assign Positive Intentions


  1. Susan Garrison says:

    This is one of the best posts you have done. I try generally to do this and combat negative assumptions and get accused too often of being “too nice.” I just learned it as “giving people the benefit of the doubt. ” I know when I succumb to thinking the worst, usually I am wrong and then feel bad for misjudging. I will keep on trusting for the best.

  2. Assumptions are the mother of all f$***ups
    Tommie Lee jones -the fugitive
    Great movie great quote.
    I like your thoughts as always. We should catch up. Let me know your availability.

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