One Saturday afternoon after completing a number of chores and miscellaneous projects around the house, I settled on the couch with a book. I was satisfied that I had met my work quota for the day. My wife walked by, glanced out the window, and mentioned that the grass needed to be cut. I looked out the window, agreed with her, and went back to the book. She was assuming that cutting the grass meant now. I assumed it meant sometime soon, but soon could mean later in the day or even tomorrow. Neither one of us shared this thought with the other. And the issued resurfaced later in a much livelier discussion. A lively discussion that might have been avoided had we both communicated our thoughts more clearly at the beginning. I say “might” because when it comes to what needs to be done vs what you want to do, there will always be conflicts related to procrastination and post-poned gratification. Ever have something like that happen to you? Sure you have. On another occasion I led a team discussion on a project that required arranging special guests. A team member volunteered to “work with the guests.” I agreed assuming this meant he would collaborate with me on deciding on particular themes and guests. He assumed he was in charge of making all the decisions. It resulted in a disagreement that would have been avoided had we understood one another up front. I’m sure you’ve been there with similar miscommunication issues related to assumptions. Those thoughts that we keep to ourselves, yet expect the other person to automatically know. And of course, unless you are the Mentalist, you don’t. So here are 3 simple steps to avoid the problems assumptions cause. Ask Questions: It would have been a simple matter to ask my wife what she was thinking as it related to the grass. Of course, the reality is, I already know that whenever she makes a suggestion like that, she means “now.” So it was probably a bad example to use in the first place, except if you’re married, I’m sure you relate. The second example, however, occurs all the time in business settings. It demonstrates how two people can share a similar goal, yet approach it very differently. Now there’s nothing wrong with a different approach as long as both parties understand and agree to it. Had I simply asked, “what do you mean by working with the guests?” I could have avoided the misunderstanding caused by an assumption. Doesn’t mean we might not still have problems related to our different perspectives. But we could at least deal with them in an honest, straight-forward manner. Clarify: Even when you think you understand it’s a good practice to verbally summarize your understanding of what the other person said. It gets your thoughts out there and allows them to do the same. Your different assumptions can be identified, discussed, and ironed out into a mutual understanding. It may not be an understanding you both like or even agree with. But at least there are no unpleasant surprises. Get a Sign-off: When your discussion reaches a final understanding, summarize it and ask for an acknowledgement. “So, as I understand it, we’re saying…is that right?” Getting the other person to acknowledge the agreement increases their commitment to it, which reduces the chance of a misunderstanding. I say reduces, because there is no such thing as completely eliminating. They may still say later: “I thought you meant this when you said that.” Okay, so maybe the problems caused by assumptions never really stop, but we can and should try to minimize them as much as possible. Consistently using these 3 steps will help you do so.
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