I Just Assumed…

by Andrea Chilcote

As you might have noticed, others often serve as a mirror for our own behaviors. So when highly self-aware beings (that’s us, right?) examine those whom we judge, therein lies opportunity. Lately I’ve been judging people who make assumptions, so I suppose I had better look in the mirror.

Assumptions. I write about them, teach people how to become aware of them and uncover “the truth” — and I wrestle with my own. I probably will continue to study the fascinating field of assumptions until I can rid my very essence of them on the journey to freedom.

It irritates me when people make assumptions about how I am feeling (There are times I’m not even sure), whether I really mean what I just said (Most of the time I do, at least in that moment) or my motives (Just ask and I’ll tell you). Much of this falls into the category of the compassionate: “You must be exhausted!” (No, I’m hungry) or the mundane: “You really don’t mind driving?” – (I would not have offered if I minded).

Sometimes though, the assumptions we make are far less benign. They are a result of unexamined perspective. Driven by a locked-in, self-referenced point of view, these judgmental perceptions can be damaging to, among other things, the relationships we hold as important. They allow us to make up fantasies of how and why we have been betrayed by another, and they serve to separate us from those with whom we seek the closest connection. At their worst, they inform future actions and decisions based on a false belief system.

No wonder I want to free myself of them!

I consider myself a flexible, broad thinker, most of the time pragmatic, and very open to debate about my opinions and perspectives. Yet I can make self–centered assumptions that then lead to conclusions, which, left unexamined, can dramatically affect the ways in which I interact with others. Dialogue guru Chris Argyris  describes this phenomenon with his classic Ladder of Inference. He demonstrates how easy it is to behave based on misinformation (our assumptions vs. the facts), and how to break the cycle.

So what to do? First, realize we all make assumptions and jump to conclusions – it’s how the human brain works. Then, equipped with this knowledge, clarify. Own your assumptions by using phrases like “I think…” or “My assumption is…”, followed by a question to check them out. “How do you see it?” Or, “Is that accurate?”

Experience assures me that these gems of wisdom reap huge rewards. Try it today with someone important to you. I will too.

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