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Have you said this in an argument?

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Three little words. Not necessarily inflammatory. You may only just say them to yourself.

"I just assumed..."

And I am sure you did. Most of us do at some point or other. Assuming is a short cut we take based on our experiences and knowledge to navigate the world.

You may have heard the old saying, never assume it makes an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'. The reality is that we often assume, to be honest if we never assumed we would be frozen by analysis. Our brains are designed to manage our energy consumption to meet the demands of different situations and continue to function efficiently. In order to do this cognitive short cuts like assuming can be really helpful but not always! It depends on our self-awareness, our intent, and our openness.

Assumption is defined by Oxford Dictionary Online as a thing that is accepted as true or certain to happen, without proof. So basically an assumption is a story we make up that we choose to believe to get on with things. And that can be amazing!

  • We can assume that something is going to go well so we create a positive mindset entering a situation

  • I can assume that you will be kind based on the values of your organisation or previous experience and we are more likely to notice your kindness

  • You can assume that I will be capable and give me opportunities where I grow and thrive

But it's easy to see how this could go wrong too, right?

  • I assume you understand the brief but you don't and the project fails

  • I assume you know what I mean when I give you directions and you get lost

  • You assume I understand how you feel but I don't so I don't support you in the way you wanted

  • You assume I want something to eat when I am not actually hungry and you feel rejected because I don't eat the sandwich you make me

  • I assume you understand the rules but you don't and then I accuse you of cheating

  • You assume I will take care of a job that you have mentioned needs to be done, but I don't do it, in fact I assume you will take care of it

  • I assume you remember a specific event the way I do and you don't...

As we build up a bank of experiences we will likely assume more, without necessarily knowing it. These experiences could be repeated tasks or relationships that build up over time. Our experiences create beliefs which are then like lenses we see the world through- my world view glasses will colour the world differently to yours but our unchecked assumptions may miss this important point. People just don't see the world exactly as we do.

Assuming can lead us to judge and condemn instead of understanding. It can lead us towards or away from connection. As I said earlier, it depends on our self-awareness, our intent, and our openness.

One of the easiest ways to flick the switch from judging and condemning to seeking understanding is simply to tap into curiosity. So the next time you find yourself assuming, before you start believing the story you are telling yourself, get curious and notice what is happening to you and around you because of this assumption. Ask yourself if what you have assumed is really true and how you know. Our assumptions, when we are aware of them, allow us to test our world view and expand our perspectives.

Brene Brown talks about assuming a positive intent, adopting a belief that people are genuinely doing they best they can with what they have right now. This doesn't absolve people from responsibility, but again it takes us towards connection and away from condemnation. It releases us from carrying the stress of holding on to anger and frustration with the assumption that the other person should know or do better. Then we can make a decision about how, if at all, we want to engage with that other person from a place of clarity and confidence.

And speaking of clarity, rather than assuming that others know what to do or what you expect, remember that clarity is kind. If you find yourself getting annoyed or frustrated when others don't meet your expectations it can help to check your assumptions and ask if you have been clear. From an organisational perspective making 'the way we do things round here' explicit can challenge unhelpful assumptions and create confidence through clarity.

Assuming is neither good nor bad, it is just something we do to reduce the cognitive load. What we do with our assumptions and the impact this has is where they can either be helpful or harmful. So next time things are getting a little tense, perhaps pause and check for any underlying assumptions that might be fuelling the fire and address those first. You never know what you might find out, it may just surprise you :)

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