Assumptions Limit Excellence

May 26, 2013
Mary Jane Copps


At the Ottawa Airport this morning, someone’s boarding pass drifted past my feet as I walked to my gate. I picked it up and went over to the agents for the appropriate flight.

“Good Morning, ladies,” I said to them both (it was 7 am), holding up the boarding pass. “I … .”

But I didn’t get to finish my second sentence. One of the agents, without looking up from her computer screen and making eye contact, cut me off. In that clipped, professional tone airline staff have perfected, she proceeded to tell me that boarding had not been announced. In other words  “Go away and leave us alone. Can’t you see we’re busy here!”

She made an assumption about the reason for my approaching the desk.

Her response had an immediate negative impact on me, especially since I had walked out of my way to deliver the lost boarding pass. Without hesitation, I raised my voice, interrupted her and said with a somewhat irritated tone, “I’ve found someone’s boarding pass.”

Yes – the agent was somewhat embarrassed. No – she did not apologize … but she did provide me with this week’s post.

In this context, the word assumption is defined as “taking for granted” (counter-productive to customer service) or “presumption, arrogance” (the antithesis of building relationships).

Yet we all make assumptions about dozens of things each day. Some of them are costing us the goodwill and loyalty of existing customers. And some of them are limiting our ability to cultivate/attract new customers.

What’s interesting for me is earlier in the week my husband had commented on my tendency to make assumptions.  He said it as a kind and supportive piece of advice and I try to take his advice seriously. He’s often right. So I’d been contemplating this notion of assumption and now I want to investigate further.

How can we identify our own assumptions? Since they are something we take for granted, how can we recognize them? Should we perhaps ask our trusted colleagues, friends, family for their input? I’d love to hear what you think.


May 30 – Halifax – Grow Your Business 

10 am until noon

This monthly prospecting practice, in conjunction with The Hub Halifax – 1673 Barrington Street, brings together like-minded entrepreneurs who want to perfect their telephone skills. To register click here  Call me at 902-404-3290 or email me for more details.

June 5 – Halifax – Phone Fear to Phone Fabulous  – Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development (CEED)

Whether it’s leveraging supplies, coordinating marketing initiatives or following up on a sales lead, the telephone is often the fastest, cheapest and most effective tool at hand to get the job done.  Why is it then that it is also one of the most avoided tools in business?  Not feeling confident in your ability to effectively communicate by phone can very quickly create a negative impact on your business’ bottom line.  Avoid this impact and overcome your phone fear by empowering yourself with the knowledge that you need to turn your telephone into one of your company’s key competitive advantages. Learn more details and register here:

June 7 – Halifax – Powerful Conversations – Editors Association of Canada

Discover your unique “phone personality” and learn how to be a more effective communicator on the telephone. This workshop will sharpen your existing skills and teach you new ways to use the phone to build relationships and get things done. More details available here:

June 28 – Halifax – Telephone Etiquette – Teamwork Cooperative/The WorkBridge

This workshop is designed for those looking for employment or wanting to improve their current skills: 1 to 4 pm.



  1. Steve Foran says:

    This is a powerful story and thank you for sharing it. It too easy to judge the Agent’s motives, however from the story it is easy to see that she was more focused on herself and her needs than on her customers needs.

    This is a classic case of “taking people for granted” and not appreciating others. Whether I’m a ticket agent for an airline, calling a prospective customer or a Prime Minister responding to questions; the second I think I have it all figured out… I’m doomed.

    Successful organizations understand this and provide supports to prevent it from happening. Mediocre organizations on the other hand… they tolerate the kind of behaviour you described.

    PS: most people who read this have already guessed the airline.

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Steve, for your comments. It is too easy to judge, and that’s where we get caught isn’t it? And it really does limit our ability to perform – and exceed.

  2. Linda Daley says:

    I’m really quite good at pointing out others’ assumptions… always trying to be better at catching my own. The real conundrum happens when we make judgments based on assumptions and then decisions based on those judgments… all quite unconsciously most of the time. I find it all so fascinating too.
    (Like Steve, I too can guess the airline and we also have a blog post about their customer service!)

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Linda, for your comments. I do hope that when you notice the assumptions I make, that you’ll point them out. I think that is a powerful solution for small business owners – that we help each other be accountable for achieving excellence.

  3. Kate MacLeod says:

    Mary Jane, your stories never fail to make a good point. Always a pleasure.

  4. Peter Skakum says:

    MJ you have the uncanny ability to immediately freeze-frame life’s situations, good and bad, and ask yourself, “Does what just happened teach me something new that might help others, too?” At least I think that’s what you are doing. Regardless it allows you to eventually render an objective opinion.

    Your article caused me to conduct some self-examination and guess what ????
    I’m guilty of making far too many assumptions. At least one assumption had devasting results. I will be more circumspect.

    What I will also do is ask some of my customers if I’ve made assumptions. I’ll preface the question by referencing your article and then ask them if they’ve caught me in an assumption and see what happens.

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Peter. Really appreciate your comments and … I’d love to hear more about what happens when you ask your customers about assumptions. One other thing to think about … they can be making assumptions about you as well.

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