Avoid embarrassment by managing assumptions.

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Ah, assumptions. We’ve all heard the saying “Assumptions make an ass out of you and me” and that is almost always the case. However, it’s really hard as a human to not make assumptions and I can’t be a proponent of Whole Human Leadership and not acknowledge that we all make assumptions.

The key, though, is how we manage those assumptions. How we recognize them, analyze them and shift our belief.

When you were little, no doubt you had a parent that would try to show you a different or what they thought was a better way to do something. As a kid, we ALWAYS translated that into “they think I’m wrong or that I don’t know what I’m doing.” When honestly, it’s probably just because they have experience and wanted to help us.

Even as adults, we tend to behave in the same way. When someone at work has a different approach or idea, we take it as an affront instead of just someone’s suggestion as a better way.

I’ve seen A LOT of leaders get themselves into trouble by making assumptions. Heck, I’ve gotten myself into a lot of trouble by making assumptions. I remember when I was a young manager on a new team, people were making snide comments about one particular individual. She was classified as a trouble maker, always had to have the last word and never listened. Human nature as it is, as soon as I saw her exhibiting these kinds of behaviors, I started to shut her down.

I recently watched a video where David Bayer said, “That which we pay attention to is aligned with what we believe.” Man, I wish I had heard that 20 years ago.

In my first one on one with this person, I was geared up for a fight and how she needed to embrace the team, that everyone has great ideas and that the show was just not about her. However, before I even got there she hit me hard with one statement. “You’ve already made up your mind about me and have started to shut me down before you even get to know me.” Followed by, “I had hoped you would be different.”

Shit, right through the heart!

Defensively, I asked how I was wrong. She let me know that she’s never allowed the chance to really express her thoughts so she takes every opportunity to speak in the hopes that someone would hear her. It was a long meeting, but in the end, I promised that I would give her time to express her thoughts and ideas and would make sure that everyone else did the same.

Over the next few weeks, I patiently listened to her ideas. In meetings, I asked everyone to really listen to what is being said. (I did it to a few different people when they were speaking, so as to not seem like I was making her a special case.)

What I learned was that she didn’t feel valued, she didn’t feel like she was part of the team. And that was on me and the previous manager for letting that happen. I also learned that she was tenacious, innovative and probably loved the team atmosphere more than anyone else. So, I started to work on everyone (including me) on how we listened, spoke and behaved with positive intent. I also started to work with her on how she approached difficult situations, so she could speak to be heard.

I also learned a lot about myself. I need to form my own opinions and truly understand why people do what they do. So, when you are frustrated with someone and you start to make assumptions (they aren’t listening, they are lazy, they are a PITA), pay attention. As yourself some questions, maybe you are missing something:

  • If you have provided feedback and instruction several times, is it HOW you have provided that information? You understand it, but do they? Were you negative or harsh, so they immediately shut down and didn’t hear a word you said?

  • Is it because they are hyperfocused on one thing you are saying and not hearing the rest? For example, they think you are saying “you’re wrong” when really you said there is a better way to do this? Or how about visa versa, you are so focused on being right that you don’t realize they are putting forward a better idea OR that there is more to the story than you thought or were told by someone else?

  • Is it because they simply don’t feel valued or heard so they are reaching out in any way they can, which might be annoying or not articulated very well.

I think it’s a natural thing to make assumptions. We are all human. However, as a Leader you must pay attention to the assumptions you make, reflect on them and reframe your thoughts. If you don’t, one day you with find yourself in a really embarrassing situation.

Be a Connected Leader.