Maybe you’ve heard the expression: to ‘assume’ makes an ass out of u and me.
Now there’s a cliché with some truth to it.
Yet assuming happens so much it’s unfortunately rather commonplace, “Oh, sorry, I just assumed you knew (…assumed you were told) (…assumed you would do ‘x’) (…assumed you would think ‘x’).”
And all you can so is erupt with a furious, “Well you assumed wrong!” Or the rhetorical “Why would you ever think I could possibly know the unknowable?!” “How could you assume something so stupid?!”
With email, the comments remain unspoken. But the anger is real. And the resulting mishaps that relied on assumptions not being made in error are also real. Potentially very large mishaps.
So the easy and obvious solution is to simply never assume. Right?
No, hold on, you say, it’s not me assuming that’s the problem here – it’s the other person who is doing the assuming without clarifying! (It’s always you, not me, who’s the problem, but that’s for another time.)
So here’s the solution that you don’t want to hear: you must take the time to scan every piece of writing, every email, every memo, every document to see what assumptions are inherent within. Yes, slow down and take some extra time to insure clarity.
Do you assume the reader has some specific knowledge? Are you sure they really have it, and have it as fully as you think they do? Can you give important details, just in case they are needed? At best, the extra info is helpful or a needed brush-up. At worse you are repeating yourself, but that’s not so bad. Just make sure it’s not done in a condescending you’re-an-idiot way.
While clarifying your information, your message, your expectations may seem unnecessarily redundant, if the result is important, it’s worth taking the extra time to do so. And even things that aren’t as important can be very annoying when done wrong and need to be redone. Often with a grumbling “I wish she had just asked me instead of assuming I knew what she was thinking…”
No one wants to do a bad job or intentionally screws up, large or small. It goes against our self-image to fail. So we really try. But we rush, to get it all done. And we assume when we shouldn’t.
Not assuming and protecting against others assuming can help clear communication channels.
Next time the topic is: training others in how we want them to act, online and offline. And you do know that you are training others how to treat you every day with every interaction, don’t you?
Comments? Have a wrong assumption story to share below?
As a lifelong practitioner of jumping to conclusions based on instant assumptions, I relate very strongly to this post. I appreciate your putting it out there, Denise.
The quick antidote I’ve been working on for a long time, involves trying to build the habit of putting a 10-second pause on the mouth, and then asking a mild question. This two-step process at least slows things down, allowing for the possibility of more thoughtful response.
And sometimes, there are people whose speech habits are slow-moving, so what looked like empty seconds really were just the rest of their moment to speak. A moment for the listener to learn a little more.
We all assume to survive. As I go to bed tonight, I assume the day will really dawn tomorrow. It makes it possible for me to function day by day, and to plan ahead. I just need to be more thoughtful about my assumptions.
The bumper sticker: Slow down. Save yourself.
Love your antidote to foot-in-mouth disease! I believe a moment of silence to pause and reflect is hugely beneficial for most if not all situations 🙂