“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” – Henry Winkler
Lack of communication is the underlying root cause of most of the conflicts that exist between you and the people in your life. And, one of the major reasons that we fail to communicate is that we are too busy making assumptions. We assume that:
• The other person already knows…
• The other person sees things the way we do…
• The other person should already know, so we don’t have to actually say it…
• The other person knows what we expect from them…
When we make assumptions like these, we set our relationships up for failure. We allow the other party to go on without complete information. And, without a complete set of information what will the other person do? Make assumptions, of course. Then it becomes a vicious circle and a breeding ground for misunderstandings, unmet expectations, disappointment, anger, and resentment.
Luckily, there is something that you can do to prevent these kinds of unfortunate outcomes. It begins with clear communication. Say exactly what you mean, practice “straight talk,” be specific and clear when you make requests of other people or when you delegate tasks or activities, and clarify, clarify, clarify! Ask questions to ensure mutual understanding and to gain perspective from the other person’s point of view.
One of the biggest problems with assumptions is that we think they’re real. We assume; and then we act as if our assumptions are “the truth.” When we teach our sessions on Conflict Management, one of the crucial and foundational concepts that we share is the concept of interpretations, which is really another way of saying assumptions. When we interpret why a conflict exists, why the other person is doing what they’re doing, and what they think about us and about the situation, we create a story in our minds. We don’t typically stop to challenge our interpretations, create new and alternate interpretations, or to actually go and have a conversation with the other party to get closer to the “real” story. But, we must be willing to create the full story for ourselves, and for the other party. We can only really put together the “real” story by engaging in an open and honest dialogue.
Not only can we ruin relationships with assumptions, but we can also torture ourselves with them, too. Many times we think that people do certain things or act a certain way because of us. We assume “its’ all about us.” You will gain a sense of freedom when you catch yourself as you make negative assumptions about what others think and how they act. Their behavior almost always has to do with them – what they are going through and not at all a reflection on you.
In addition to being more clear when you communicate with the people in your life and in your work, catch yourself when you make assumptions or interpretations that you don’t have any facts to support. Identify the questions that you need answered to move forward, and stop yourself when you make negative assumptions about yourself or others. Then, create new, more positive and empowering interpretations to act on instead. Or, pick up a copy of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. “Don’t Make Assumptions” is one of the Agreements and his book is filled with insights and strategies for achieving happiness, success and healthy relationships.
How have assumptions affected your personal and professional relationships? What insights have you had when you’ve challenged them or uncovered the truth by accident? And, what strategies do you use to minimize the effect of assumptions in your relationships?