You know the saying: “when you assume, it makes an a** out of u and me” – which can be often more truthful than simply clever.
So when should you assume? Or should you? What role does assuming have in communication, if any?
Actually, assuming is the lack of clear communication – you don’t really know, so you assume – you try to guess what the other person was thinking, what they meant to say, what was implied but not overtly stated. And you further assume that the left out material was unintentionally done so – not meant to purposely make you look bad or leave you in the lurch wondering.
So by assuming, you try to do the person a favor and proceed to make the mistake of acting without clarifying, without getting full knowledge. Other times you assume because you think you will look less than smart if you don’t, and no one wants to look stupid. Then there’s the times when your ego tells you that it’s your right and you assume the higher position as your due.
“I assumed that you meant for me to have the last one, because you didn’t say otherwise…” (“Oh, I was saving that for Johnny, but I didn’t think I had to label it – I assumed you would ask before taking the last one…”)
“I assumed you would want me to join you, so I went ahead and booked my travel on the same dates.” (“Well did you also assume that I might change my mind, because that trip was cancelled two weeks ago.”)
“I just assumed you were too busy to take care of this yourself, so I went ahead and did it for you…” (“You WHAT?? Well, you assumed wrongly – actually I was purposely waiting on that, to think it over a little longer before deciding which way to go, but now you have apparently decided it for me.”)
When the situation has a danger component, you should never assume and clarifications are mandatory. (“Do you actually know what you’re doing here, or should we call for help?” versus “I assumed you knew what you’re doing and now we’re stuck.”)
So, in the interests of maintaining crystal clear communication with others, you should never assume? In a perfect world, that might be true, but that is far from the world that we all live in. So when is it advisable to not seek out clear communication and instead to assume you have full knowledge instead of trying to clarify before acting?
When the person obviously needs help and is too proud or too stubborn to ask for it, pitching in and assuming is a good thing. And when there is a crisis or general chaos, assuming a leadership role and taking charge when no one else steps up is also a public service.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: In general, assuming is a trait of poor communication and can frequently lead to mistakes, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. A good habit is to catch yourself when you are about to assume something, then stop and speak up before acting, “Would it be OK if…?”, “Do I have all the information on this?”, “Is the procedure to follow [this]…?” Your consistency in doing this will result in uncovering more information or verifying that you have complete information to decide, before potentially making a (small or large) mistake. Don’t assume when you can easily ask! Easily said; harder to make habitual.