Henry Winkler once said, "Assumptions are the termites of relationships." We often (and wrongly) assume things about people based on their appearance, how they sound, where they are from, their education level--all stemming from the stereotypes we have learned.
When people look at me and hear me talk, they naturally assume I'm U.S.-born and American as apple pie.
When I tell them I was born and raised in Brazil, they're surprised. Many assume that I should have Latin features and darker skin, not Caucasian features on a 6 foot, 4 inch frame.
Yes, making assumptions can cloud your judgment. This is not good for making positive connections and building relationships at work.
How assumptions hurt you.
Ever assume someone might be or act in a certain way, then you're caught off guard when that person acts in a different manner than you expected? Like the mean-looking, bald-headed guy with the tattoo sleeves who is actually the pastor of a church for recovering bikers? You get my drift.
Assumptions negatively impact relationships in a few ways. By interpreting and misperceiving things or people, we unconsciously judge behaviors and intentions.
Before giving your brain free reign to assume something, stop and ask:
- Do I have all the facts or am I making an unfounded assumption?
- Do I want to prove that my assumption is right, or do I want to develop a deeper connection with this person by asking versus assuming?
What happens when you don't do this.
When you don't do the simple task of asking questions to challenge your own assumptions, you let thoughts and belief systems to become strongholds of the mind. In other words, you keep believing the lies that you've been telling yourself.
Those thoughts swirling in your head may have no connection to reality in the moment, but by assuming and hanging on to a belief about the other person or situation as being true (usually it's fear-based and attached to past negative experiences), your emotional reaction is rooted on those thoughts.
Miguel Ruiz, best selling author of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, has some good perspective on why we make assumptions. He states:
"If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don't understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions."
How to undo assumptions.
There are five things I highly recommend you do to break the cycle.
1. First, be skeptical. Don't buy into something you hear or see (especially in your own head!) unless you have proof and first-hand knowledge. It's easy to latch onto something we "want" to hear, and this is exactly the danger.
2. Develop self-awareness and get to know those moments when you're assuming. If you didn't see it, hear it, and experience it yourself, you're probably assuming.
3. Be aware of taking in a scene and running with your own internal script. Even if you have first-hand knowledge of something, you may not have the whole story. Verify, get perspective, talk to other people.
4. Since you don't have mind reading superpowers (an assumption that I would wager heavily on and win), stay open minded and try to understand where the other person is coming from. You will never really know about the other person, what he or she is thinking, unless you initiate a genuine conversation.
5. Ask questions. Lots of questions.