Am I Right to Assume …

We are living in the day of information abundance. There’s hardly a single subject we can’t Google in seconds. This easy access to information can lull us into a sense of know-it-all-ness. Though, speaking from my own personal experience, I’ll argue it’s more of a know-enough-to-be-dangerous-ness.

Conversely, we also live in a time of snap-judgement and pigeonholing. It’s like our brain’s “sorting gear” being thrown into overdrive. None of us are immune to it. It seems an almost expected outcome given the pressures we face in today’s fast-paced society to economize our time, make decisions quickly and “move the ball forward” at a record pace.

Our brains are indeed supercomputers, rapidly taking in information, categorizing it, relying on historic, impressed patterns and spitting out current perceptions, so we can move on to the next thing.

But here’s the problem. When know-enough-to-be-dangerous and pigeonholing collide, the result often takes the form of assumptions. This happens every day in personal and professional situations alike. We’ve all experienced times when assuming one thing turned out to be the very opposite of reality.

True story

A few years back, I was in the process of building out an in-house creative team. A person from another team in the company applied for one of our writer openings. Based on her resume and recent work history, I assumed she’d be a knowledgeable and skilled addition to our team, but largely in a more product or technical-focused capacity. And she was!

Not until a year or more later when I approached her cautiously about a more creative-oriented project opportunity did I learn she’d long been interested in trying her hand at more creative copy writing. And guess what, she was terrific at it!

Sometimes working past our assumptions also requires letting go of what we *think* is a good thing. What if the good thing we think we’ve got going could be a great thing?

 

Communication tips for avoiding the assumption trap

Imagine if we assumed we don’t yet have all the facts or the experience to speak or act. What if we engaged a real-life Google search, person-to-person?

It’s as simple as asking a few well-crafted questions of the person or people in front of you and … here’s the kicker … listening. Three helpful tips for re-orienting the conversation:

 

  1. Own up to your assumption. Don’t tip-toe around your assumption. Be direct but thoughtful. For example, if you think a member of your team has no interest in taking on a new responsibility, state your current impression and why. “Given your past interest in focusing on the research, I didn’t know you’d be eager to present.” An honest start to overcoming an assumption helps level set the conversation and clear the air on both sides.
  2. Ask open-ended questions, not yes/no. This allows the other person to answer fully, in their own words—and provides you with better context and understanding of their mindset and any lingering apprehensions. “Tell me what interests you about being the presenter for this project.
  3. Don’t make snap decisions. Especially if the decision at hand has far-reaching implications, allow this new information to simmer and infuse your previous thinking. Sometimes the right response is not the polar opposite of your original perception but the generation of a new, better idea you’d never considered.

 

Breaking down our predisposition to assume won’t happen overnight. It’s human nature. But when we practice self-awareness, and actively work to clear those assumptions from our daily interactions, we can set the stage for more honest and productive communication in every facet of our personal and professional lives.