Assume is a four letter word

All around Australia. In every organization, we are actively hurting our culture. This may seem like a bit of an extreme thing to say. But it's true, and let me explain.  

Too many people make too many assumptions about what other people are thinking or doing.  

When you are in a conversation with somebody else, your brain naturally starts to fill in the blanks of the things that you don't know yet and weaves the story together. This is a natural human trait. It is the way our brains are wired for stories and therefore for assumptions. The reason we are wired this way is so that we can find shortcuts in life.  

If every time we got a fork out of a drawer we had to stop and think about how the fork looks, how to open the drawer and how our arm needs to move. We would be exhausted before breakfast was over. So our brain creates shortcuts so that we conserve energy.  

This is fantastic for making us a creature who can be efficient in day-to-day activities, particularly those activities that just repeat over and over again. The problem our brain works that way when we're engaged in a conversation or relationship. Our brains are just trying to keep us safe. So, therefore, our brains, when faced with a lack of information will just naturally fill in the gaps.  

If I don't know a piece of information and I am making up stories to fill in the gaps, I get the information for this 'gap filling' from the things that have happened to me in the past. My personal lived experience will fill in the gaps. For example, a manager is explaining to their team that the new CEO is talking about making changes in the organisation. The team is listening to the words of the manager and they each are making stories up themselves from their own perspectives.  

Jack is listening and has had three redundancies in his career. Immediately he starts to think about the changes that the CEO is going to make, and how he's going to reduce staff numbers and make everyone redundant.  

Mary is sitting there and is a project manager. In the past when a change was made by the CEO, her project was stopped and she was placed on another project of lesser value. So the story that she's telling herself is that the CEO is going to make some changes and she's going to lose her project and not feel valued anymore.  

Then there's Bob. He's had major successes in the past. He's always been the one that's survived after a fall. So he's thinking, changes, that sounds great. We need some changes around here. Those processes, systems, and practices are frustrating. So let's change them.  

The assumptions that were made by each of the people might not necessarily be wrong. But they might be wrong. Every time you make an assumption, and you're not able to validate that assumption, you will continue to tell yourself that story. At some point, your brain will believe it to be true. We call this a confabulation. It's a lie. But it is something that you believe to be true. This is killing cultures around the country and the world.  

Think about this, from an individual point of view, not just a cultural point of view. I'm in a conversation with somebody. Their face is looking a little grouchy, let's say this conversation might be about a project that we're both on and we're discussing a deliverable that needs to be met. I'm standing there, and I'm talking to this person and all the time I'm talking to them about the project, they have a somewhat grumpy look on their face. Now, my brain will automatically register that as something that's not safe for me.  

I will start making assumptions based on that grouchy face and may start thinking that they're not convinced that I'm going to be able to deliver on time. Maybe they don't like me and they're only talking to me because we happen to be on this project together. Maybe I start to think they're they are grouchy all the time. Now every time we have a meeting together, I'm thinking that they are just a grouchy person and I ignore the feedback they provide.  

Whatever I'm thinking has nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with me and my experience. Every single time you assume something about someone else, it's your ego (and brain) trying to protect you from a danger that you have made up in your mind.  

Your thoughts and your assumptions are not reality.  


So what do you do instead?  


Step 1: is to accept that what you believe to be true is only what you believe, it may not be the actual truth. What you have assumed in your mind is a product of your thoughts and your experiences, and has nothing to do with the other person. 
Step 2: is understanding that every person is doing the best they can with what they have, in this present time. This is the act of generous intent. To be able to have good quality relationships, and not have negative assumptions about someone, we have to be generous in our thinking about that person.  
Step 3: is the most important part of the puzzle. Exchange assume for the ask. It's also one of the easiest things that you can do to change your relationships and to change your culture.  

Assume is a four-letter word. For those that don't understand what a four-letter word is, maybe they didn't grow up with my mom saying "we don't say four-letter words in this house". A four-letter word is a bad word or a curse word, and something that we don't use in polite company.   

Assume as the old saying goes, makes an Ass out of U and Me.  


Stop undermining and destroying your culture and your relationships by assuming what other people are thinking. Instead, just ask.  

If you are interested in understanding more about how you can create a workplace culture of which you can be proud, and that provides your employees and your customers with a great experience. Please get in touch with SynergyIQ because we are leaders in enabling change and here to help. 


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