How many of us have assumed incorrectly before? Maybe we have accepted without confirming a date or time and ended up missing an important meeting or obligation. We may have assumed that everyone is on the same page or that communication between individuals was completed to later find out that wasn’t the case. Assuming is something many (if not all) of us have done without realizing it, or until something goes astray and causes problems.
I have done this many times myself. I have assumed that someone just knew something or ‘should’ know what to do in a particular situation. However, I have been quickly disappointed to find out that’s not true at all. The word assumption is defined as a thing that is accepted as true or certain to happen, without proof or confirmation. Assuming is what I think causes a breakdown of the information in a workplace and between colleagues. People would rather just believe that something will take place rather than verifying that it actually does.
In some ways, assuming is what blocks us from effectively negotiating business deals and transactions. Dr. Chester Karass, a leader in negotiation tactics, highlights why assumptions can likely be “as wrong as they are right.” For instance, we sometimes assume that we already know what someone will say in regards to business negotiations and startups: “They won’t pay that,” “There’s too much competition,” or even, “No one will ever buy something like that.” Those statements are based on assumptions, ones that often lead to people not taking a risk or losing out on a business deal that may have been a win-win for both parties.
As Dr. Karass points out, Such assumptions can defeat you before you start negotiating; these assumptions lower your expectations; influence the outcome of the negotiation; and may, in fact, be dead wrong. You are taking a chance on something that may not even happen without the evidence to support your thoughts. This can also be seen in other ways in the work environment. For instance, when people miss out on a promotion at work, they assume it’s because they didn’t work hard enough to get it.
So why do we assume in the first place? It seems like it’s such a simple thing to avoid, but in reality, it’s quite the opposite. In an article titled, “Assumptions – Why They Are Wrecking Your Mood and How To Stop Making Them,” written by Sheri Jacobson, she gives us a thorough breakdown of why it happens and how to curb the desire to simply assume something will take place without the certainty that it will.
First off, the brain is designed to look for patterns and make assumptions by default. This means that your brain makes ‘mental models’ to help make you more efficient. As an example of this, it means you can drive the same route to work every day while practicing for a presentation you have later in the day. It’s what we call multitasking and our ability to do multiple things without having to concentrate on each one. That’s what makes assuming an easy thing to do throughout the day and in our work environment.
Another trait of assuming is that it is a learned behavior that we are taught at a young age. How many of us hated the thought of disagreeing with our parents when we were younger? Our parents or guardians are the ones who teach us right from wrong and give us perspective on what we ‘should’ think as normal. As we get older, we may start to question their assumptions on different topics because we have our own experience to counteract them.
As we look at this in regards to the workforce, it’s important to remember that assumptions can take away our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another. As writer Jacobson says,
“Assumptions damage our capacity to relate to others. If you are always assuming you know how others think and feel, you stop listening and communicating and leave them feeling trapped or misunderstood.”
I find this to be too evident when it comes to people who go from employees to managers. Some employees seem to forget where they came from and don’t want to ‘lower’ themselves to working as hard as those who answer them. They assume that since they are boss, then everyone should understand what that entails and means for them.
So how can you change that for your team as their employer and manager going forward? The first thing you can do is ask yourself, “Am I assuming too much?” Take a step back and figure out if you are trying to think for your team. Designate some time to write down and figure out where you assume too much or too little. This can be a great place to start and may help give you better insight into properly communicating and working with your employees.
Be mindful and ask yourself questions that help breakdown your assumptions. As Jacobson says, try to avoid ‘why’ questions and go for ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions.” These can include, “what would happen if I assumed the opposite,” or “how would this go if didn’t communicate this message?” These simple questions that we pose to ourselves can help us better understand someone else’s position and perspective.
Delegate and give up some responsibility and control in your company. They say a lion can sleep most of the day because they have delegated most of the work out to qualified and trusting members of their pack. The same should be done by you. It is easy to assume that it won’t get done if you don’t have control. However, until you delegate it out, how do you know that’s not possible. You may find out that someone may be able to do the job and do it better and more efficiently.
Finally, figure out the places in your company where you feel there is a department where there seems to be no progression going on, rather it is business or employee morale related. This could be the perfect time to engage those on your team to see how they feel or to communicate your feelings on their role or department. Opening the communication for honest feedback allows for assumptions to be thrown out the door and for progression to be made for both you and your team.