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Assumptions - We all make them

On the Halt2Proceed program one of our steps discusses Assumptions, why we make them and how damaging they can be.

We all have assumed something in our lives, we have been placed in a situation where we have assumed.

But why? Do we not communicate enough? Do we use these assumptions to spread lies? Do we use the assumptions to hurt someone? Deliberately causing a rift on purpose?

Do we really know what is going on in someone's head?

I had the privilege to work under a fantastic manager, he was an exceptional boss, a brilliant man manager. He told me that ‘If you assume, it will make an ass out of you and me’.

This advice has stuck with me for 30 years, he was talking in the context of software development, where any assumption leads to unnecessary coding, extra time and delays implementing the solution. But this statement is true for all situations where we assume.

On a very early training course that I was teaching, a participant stopped the course and asked me what an acronym meant. I had assumed that the audience knew what I meant. It was a basic acronym, with only 3 letters, but it had confused the participant.

This was a very important lesson to me as a young trainer, I had made a basic assumption. Why had I not put the meaning of the acronym on the slide? I knew what it meant, so I had assumed that as the participants of the course had signed up for the course, that they knew as well. It taught me a very valuable lesson that you need to know the audience that you are presenting to and to never use acronyms without the explanation.

We have made assumptions in our lives; many assumptions lead us to bad decisions. Assumptions made regarding people are the worst assumptions. Many managers do not engage with certain people because they assume that they do not want to engage or they are troublemakers, upsetting the team ethic.

A common statement is ‘I just assumed that you did not want to be involved’. This is bad management, if someone doesn’t want to be involved in a decision-making process or a team environment is an extremely bad decision. Many people want to engage but are never given the chance.

As people rise the managerial hierarchy, the greater the assumption from their staff is. The person at the bottom of the company structure will make lots of assumptions regarding the directors of the company. Why would they be interested in me? I am just the lowest of the low.

I experienced the complete opposite when I went to work on my gap year from college. I was a student programmer, with no experience, yet during a team meeting, my manager asked me what my opinion was. I was shocked, I was 19, a student and new to the business. He made me feel that my opinion mattered, he wanted to engage with me and wanted to know what I thought.

This made me feel part of the team, my input was minimal and had no effect on the project, but he had asked me. He had not assumed anything. Everyone had an input.

Think of the assumptions that you have made in your life. How you have been influenced by hearsay, other people’s opinions and why you assumed. Think of the team of people that you work with today, how many assumptions have you made about them?

We all use assumptions as barriers in our life. In the workplace, assumptions ensure that we do not communicate effectively. Whilst in our office, I received an email from a colleague asking for help on a project. This colleague was sitting 15 feet away from me. I got up out of my chair and went over to talk to them. As I approached them, there was panic on their face. When I asked them why they had emailed me, instead of coming over and asking in person, they told me that they had assumed that I would not have the time to help them and were afraid to ask in person.

Think of the assumptions we make every day, how people dress for work, their punctuality, their body language. The boss who is going to be unapproachable because of their position within the company.

When I joined my first company, the Managing Director was the owner of the company and a very important person within the community. I was in awe of him, he had a very large house, a very successful company and commanded the attention of everyone when he walked into a room. I very quickly assumed that I could never talk to him, I was a junior programmer who had 2 levels of management before I could speak to him. I purposely did not engage with him due to the fear factor for the first few months of employment.

I was the new employee, young, just qualified and had no real standing within the company. Then during a summer event, held at his house, he took the time to come and speak to me and ask how I was getting on, did I have any concerns and that his door was always open at any time. My assumptions about him were completely wrong and it had affected how I interacted with him.

Most assumptions are made of fear or lack of confidence. The voice in your head that tells you that you aren’t good enough, the fear factor. Removing assumptions is not an easy task, we all assume, every day.

We build assumptions so that we can justify situations, so that we cannot face them or to make ourselves feel better. One I hear all the time is ‘My boss has never liked me’. After talking to the person and then the boss, it is 99% of the time false, most of the time, the boss just doesn’t know how to handle the person.

‘Why would they listen to me’ is another assumption. Most staff we train consider themselves unimportant and not decision makers. The assume that they are not an important member of the team. When you remind them that they are an integral cog in the system, and without them the system would not function, they start to remove some of the assumptions.

An assumption leads to bad decision making, remove the assumption, communicate issues honestly, listening to each other. Sounds simple, but when in a stressful environment, it can easily escalate and become extremely difficult to implement. But once they are removed, the difference can be incredible.

Assumptions lead to lies, which generate bad feelings between the two parties, these are often made from assumptions to cover up mistakes and to justify a position taken. 'Well I thought you' is a common statement which we have all made. As soon as we say this, we have made assumptions. You do not know what situation the other person is in, what pressures they are under, they may be struggling with a new role, completely out of their depth and they would love your input, but assume that you hate them or would not help them.

Try to not assume, try to communicate, discuss the situation, engage people. Most people want to be communicated with, not excluded. Always ask their opinion, ask questions. We need to communicate rather than assume.

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