If you pay attention to your thoughts, you may find that assumptions you make about others are one of the biggest reasons for any misunderstandings and unhealthy conflicts that you can have. These assumptions appear out of nowhere, ready to strike down established relationships and cause confusion, harm, and turmoil. It pays to become aware of the assumptions you make, as noticing and reflecting on them before you act can prevent undue stress. The most common reasons I see for leaders making assumptions are:
You make assumptions from a lens that is too focused on what you don’t like about someone
A soccer coach told me that the hardest thing to do was to make sure that he didn’t just focus on a small part of the soccer field. He needed to be able to “zoom out” and see the entire field when necessary, something good coaches (and leaders) need to be able to do too. Spend some time with others (particularly those you may have difficulty with) and zoom out to see the whole picture. If you’re focused on only one aspect of someone’s personality or ability, ask yourself “What is the complete story I need to learn about this person?”.
You haven’t been clear about your expectations
You assume that because you declared something (like a deadline or an outcome) that others understood you completely. You must be clear and thoughtful in what you communicate, and ask them if they understand. Important communications require you to stop and carefully consider the content you are going to communicate. If you are making assumptions about others’ lack of understanding, ask yourself, “What is my role in others’ lack of understanding the expectations I communicated?”
You allow the past to dictate the present
You assume that someone can’t change. Because they made a mistake in the past, you believe that they are inept – forever. Oh ye of little faith. People can, and do change. Forget the past and assume the best. Chances are their best actions will follow. If you are making assumptions about someone’s inability to change for the better, ask yourself, “Have I changed from my past? Can this person also change?”
Start to listen to yourself and the assumptions you make about others; ask yourself if they are true, then seek to listen and discover more. It’s well worth it if you want to maintain and grow your relationships.
More From Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive/leadership coach whose work spans decades of making a difference in the lives of hundreds of executives, leaders and teams in Fortune 500, mid- and small-sized business, governments and nonprofits. She focuses on facilitating individuals and teams from first-line supervisor to the C-suite to create, develop, and influence the relationships that can make them extraordinary.