“Every issue, belief, attitude or assumption is precisely the issue that stands between you and your relationship to another human being, and between you and yourself.”Author Unknown
You’re following a familiar route home from work when you discover a bridge you’ve always crossed is blocked by a construction crew. There’s a flagman and he raises his stop sign. You slow the vehicle that you’re driving to a halt and toy with the idea of leaning out the window and yelling, “Five o’clock is a lousy time for bridge repair!” You sit behind the wheel fuming, tapping your fingers impatiently on the steering wheel – incessantly checking your watch. The traffic has lined up behind you now with no chance to back up or turn around.
“There was nothing wrong with the bridge this morning!” you mutter under your breath.
You look up to see the flagman motioning for motorists to turn around. Angry now, you assume city crews deliberately wait for rush hour to inconvenience as many drivers as possible. When the flagman gives you the “turn around” sign, you pound the steering wheel and accidentally hit the horn. He looks your way then walks over and motions for you to roll the window down.
“A loose section on the old bridge just collapsed,” he explains.
“Oh, I see,” you respond sheepishly.
“For safety reasons,” he explains, “we’re asking folks to find an alternate route home.”
I’ve come to believe that life wants to roll forward. When we encounter the unexpected, a gap in our understanding is created, and we want to bridge it quickly. We have two options: to seek clarity and move into a state of understanding, or bridge the gap in our understanding with an assumption. Unfortunately, most of us will choose destructive option number two: assume.
Bridging the gap with an assumption allows life to roll forward but at what cost? Assumptions are simply uninvestigated thoughts, and we make countless assumptions every day.
I’ve seen this often happen in the business world. Ineffective communication by management leads staff to begin speculating about the whys and wherefores of certain business decisions. Speculation leads to gossip, and gossip can lead to a variety of false conclusions. When gossip becomes gospel, the gap in our understanding appears to have been bridged. To further compound the issue, events and situations then become filtered through the assumption leading us even further astray. When we proceed from a false assumption, we lose our objectivity and soon begin interpreting events in such a way as to support our ill-formed conclusions.
No one is immune to making assumptions – even world leaders – and it would be impossible to tally the number of conflicts that have erupted as the result of a gap bridged by an assumption. What makes assumptions difficult to curb is they typically occur at an unconscious level. While the serious study of a situation or event blends verifiable data with our knowledge to draw an informed conclusion, assumptions typically happen without the benefit of either. Beneath the surface of each assumption lies an intricate framework of beliefs, values, and prejudices, which subtly shape our perceptions.
The good news is we can choose to break the assumption cycle. With a little practice, we can raise your level of awareness and begin to recognize when we’re about to make an assumption. That’s a good time to remember the adage, “When in doubt, check it out!” Find the courage to ask questions and seek answers to what you need. Communicating clearly with others will help to avoid misunderstandings and significantly reduce the drama factor in your life.
Adrienne Rich, American poet, essayist and feminist, once wrote, “Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves.”
The reality is other people don’t know what we’re thinking, nor can they truly understand our motivations. Therefore, let’s not assume that we know what someone is thinking. Clarity allows us to bridge the gap successfully and roll forward safely. When in doubt, check it out!