Strategy & personal development

What do you ASSUME?!

There is an old saying that to assume makes an ASS out of U and ME.

This saying highlights the fact that often when we make assumptions we are misjudging or misunderstanding both our own position and that of others.

By not challenging these assumptions we are not getting a full perspective of a situation and that can lead to poor decisions.

Assumptions do add value in certain situations for example Strategic planning requires an element of assumption. It is OK to assume that if you merge two companies that there will be cost savings, although even in this example I think you would do some basic research to make sure that is the case.

Much as I hate assumptions I know that we are almost hardwired to make them.

It is a way of shortcutting thoughts. Our brains want to help us out by giving us a quick response, as the saying goes 

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it’s probably a duck!” 

We learn from experience and we store the information within easy reach so we can make quick assessments of situations and people.

But our assumptions can also hold us back too.

  • We assume other people won’t like us.
  • We assume people see our flaws.
  • We assume other people know what to do.
  • We assume other people think like we do.
  • We assume other people feel like we do.
  • We assume other people have understood us!

All of the above may be true but equally, they may not and if we don’t challenge those assumptions how will we ever find out?

So let’s create an example to illustrate this.

As a young leader, you were asked to make sure that a team stayed late to finish a project. 

Now this wasn’t going to make you the most popular but the work needed to be done and everyone knew it.

Everyone was happy to stay apart from Alex and Drew.. 

Alex explained that they had a prior commitment that couldn’t be changed and apologised.

Drew did not offer an explanation but simply said that they could not stay.

You don’t ask Drew for a reason – you assume that Drew just doesn’t want to do as you have asked or that Drew is “being difficult” or disrespectful.

Now imagine that Alex has pink hair and Drew has blue hair. At an instinctive level, your brain will make an assumption that people with pink hair are polite and understanding and people with blue hair can be difficult, don’t do what you ask them to and disrespect you.

Potentially these are the messages you have stored in your brain.

So you have a great career in leadership and in the next 5 years, you never have to speak to another person with blue hair.

But then you are promoted into a role where your righthand person has blue hair.

Instinctively you see trouble, you are wary and defensive. You are reluctant to treat them well because you assume they will not reciprocate or that they don’t respect you. Your relationship very quickly becomes unpleasant and eventually, they report you for mistreatment. 

Now I know this example seems absurd but I have seen similar versions of this happen.

Now imagine that you had taken the time to ask Drew a little more about why they couldn’t do the extra shift? Perhaps they would still have clammed up but they might have told you that they struggle to focus after the standard 8 hours shift, or that they needed to get some medication. There could have been a million other reasons that they just didn’t want to discuss with you at that time. And it might be that you needed to have a conversation with them at a later date.

Either way, your experience of people with blue hair will have changed.

This is an extreme example but my point is that we have constantly asked ourselves what assumptions we are making.

Without entering a debate about the rights and wrongs of any of the below just think about the assumptions made in these thoughts:

  • I should open the door for her.
  • A bonus will make them feel appreciated.
  • Having great coffee in the office will make all the difference.
  • Kelly will be happy to organise the company golf day.
  • Jacob can’t multitask.
  • Geoffrey isn’t looking to progress.

Now all of the above could be true but my point is do you know if it is true? 

The more conversations we have to understand WHY people do things then the more open we can be and the better decisions we will make. Sometimes those conversations may seem uncomfortable but the more you do them the easier they become.

The best place to start is with open questions, questions that require a response that is not No or Yes. 

  • What do you think we should do in this situation?
  • How would you solve this problem?
  • What can I do to make this work better for you?
  • Explain your understanding of what we have discussed?
  • What makes you think that?
  • How did you come to that decision?

And don’t forget to LISTEN to the answers too 😁

Challenging your own assumptions and those of others will help with conflict, with EDI and improve the lives of everybody around you.

Very few of us have the time to pause and ask ourselves “what assumptions am I making” every time we speak but I think it is worth just trying to have the image of this lovely Ass as a gentle reminder. 😁

Originally posted 2022-11-07 16:19:58.

Mhairi Richardson
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Mhairi Richardson

Mhairi specialises in coaching teams to help them achieve more and improve their wellbeing. Her focus is on building trust within the team and a combination of coaching, mentoring and facilitation and she can tailor the program to the needs of your business. She enjoys working with newly formed teams, established team or teams who just feel they should be achieving more. Mhairi is also a coach with a strong SME background, a focus on the detail, a high level of emotional intelligence and a strong desire to develop talent and grow high performing teams.

What do you ASSUME?!

by Mhairi Richardson Time to read: 3 min