We all do it. We can’t seem to help it. We make assumptions when: (1) we believe something to be true without proof; or (2) we take something for granted. Assumptions are dangerous, because they may be unfair and wrong.
We tend to judge events and people based on our experiences. This can be useful as a shortcut when a situation is either unimportant or a quick decision is required. But often assumptions reinforce misunderstandings and lead to conflict. Assumptions may be labeling, mind-reading, fortune-telling, and “should-ing.”
Labeling: (He’s sloppy. You’re lazy. She’d disorganized. I’m stupid.) Labels limit us and others. They reinforce negative stereotypes, discourage growth, and limit our ability to think creatively.
Mind reading: (She doesn’t understand how hard this is. He doesn’t care about my feelings. They don’t really want to help out. All they want is money.) We think we know what the other person thinks and ignore evidence that might tell us something more positive. If we act on this, without checking, we limit our opportunity to understand, and we limit the other person’s ability to change.
Fortune telling: (He won’t carry through on his commitments. If I say anything she’ll get mad. If I let her do this she’ll mess up.) Fortune telling sets negative goals and then lives down to them. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and an excuse for not trying.
“Should-ing”: (Women shouldn’t have careers. I shouldn’t ask questions. Men shouldn’t show their feelings. I should be paid more.) “Shoulds” come from being stuck in a pattern of “how it’s supposed to be” based on our own limited experience or other people’s expectations. They can lead to guilt and judging, rather than to creating new possibilities.
What’s the answer? Be aware, be transparent, ask questions. Let others see your thinking. Say, “I noticed ______ and it led me to believe _____.” Or “When you said ____, I thought it meant ____.” Then ask, “Is that right?”
Ask about the other’s thinking: “Can you walk me through how you got to that conclusion? What did it mean when you said ____? How do you feel about ____? What leads you to think ____?”
The bottom line is: Be aware of your assumptions, and Check them out!
Happy New Year!
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