Like everyone, I have a healthy dose of imperfections. Some of them, I’ve learned to live with and found ways to compensate. For example, I’m quite physically awkward, uncoordinated. (If my friend Sean is reading this, he’ll be laughing. He witnessed the month(?) it took me to figure out how to serve properly when playing squash.) I tend to stay away from highly challenging physical activities, not only to keep myself safe but also to avoid a lot of embarrassment.
But there’s a communication imperfection I’ve struggled to figure out how to mitigate. It has created numerous problems for me throughout my life. While it has less impact as I grow older, I’ve still continued searching for a better way to live with it … and I think I’ve found it.
What is this imperfection? Is it one you have as well? And might this solution work for you?
It’s assumptions; I have travelled through my life making a lot of big assumptions. It’s a difficult character flaw to pin down because I’m also endlessly curious. But once I’ve assumed something, it’s almost impossible for me to consider other possibilities.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘assumption’ as “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof”. When I make assumptions, I decide that something is true before I know it is true. And I don’t take the time, or I haven’t developed the skills, to distinguish between my decision and reality.
So I’ve been looking for a way to interrupt my thought process. If I could recognize – in the moment – that I am making a decision without having all the facts, then I might be able to start reducing my assumptions. And I think I’ve found it.
It’s one simple question, shared by a physician in a radio interview: “What else could this be?”
While it’s obvious how this question fits in the world of medical diagnoses, it actually applies in every area of life. When a family member or friend is upset, we often assume we know why. Yet, if we ask ourselves this question, we might discover that our empathy is short-sighted and we need to listen more, pay more attention.
Clients often approach us with problems or challenges that are similar to previous projects we’ve done. Sometimes we start suggesting solutions too quickly, thinking this is the best way to prove our expertise, but this is the perfect place for assumptions to thrive.
When I take a breath and say to myself “What else could this be?”, a wealth of questions appear in my mind. My curiosity is ignited and takes over with energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes, my initial assumption is correct but sometimes I discover opportunities and options that surprise and delight everyone involved.
What do you think? How do you guard against making assumptions? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.