Assumptions damage relationships and communication. When coaching teams and facilitating formal and information partnerships, we see that assumptions are often underneath most conflict situations. “A self-fulfilling prophecy is an assumption or prediction that, purely as a result of having been made, causes the expected or predicted event to occur and thus confirms its own 'accuracy.' - Paul Watzlawick
The quietly held internal beliefs that we hold about people, situations and intentions block opportunities for connecting and learning from each other. Assumptions limit our ability to access new and different perspectives. Assumptions stifle creativity. Assumptions perpetuate conflict. Assumptions create chronic barriers. Assumptions erode confidence.
Why do we hold assumptions? Most frequently it’s an attempt to create meaning and understanding. We all want context so that we can determine how to act, interact or react. The challenge is that our assumptions are usually based on past events. That limits us from being fully open to what is happening here and now.
Address Assumptions, Improve Communication, Enhance Connection
“Don’t make assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.” Don Miguel Ruiz
When working with clients, we ask them to tackle assumptions in the following ways.
- If communication or connection is challenged in a relationship, scan your own thoughts. What assumptions are you holding about the other person or the situation? Notice what beliefs and reactions this triggers in you.
- Out yourself – share the assumptions you are holding. “I notice that I’m assuming that you are resistant to change and likely won’t be open to my ideas. For that reason I’m not participating.”
- Seek to clarify – ask the person how they are feeling and thinking in order to clarify your understanding. “Tell me how you are actually feeling about this change initiative?” or “What’s the best way for me to share new ideas with you?”
- Invite others to probe the assumptions that you are holding. “What do you need to know from me?” If you are going to ask, be willing to be open in sharing your thoughts and feelings too.
- Confirm your new understanding, make new agreements and state your intention for going forward together.
The Result: more open, honest and direct communication that is based on current reality instead of old stories. These conversations can shift the relationship dynamic and open new understanding. Once this new level of alignment and understanding is achieved, the path forward can be more productive and creative.