Oh assumptions you are so unassuming (bwahahahaaa!). I had a teacher who introduced me to this: “Don’t assume. It makes an ass outta you and me!” It’s catchy and has stuck with me but I don’t always recognize when I’m doing it. I often assume people know how I feel about them; they know they’re important to me but unless I say it now and then how do they really know? The biggest assumptions are around acceptable behavior—we don’t all have the same parents (eww) and are not identical twins so I’m not sure why we think everyone defines acceptable the same. Let’s explore more.
Automagically Isn’t a Thing
Ok well, it is for unicorns, fairies, and Santa but I digress. Humans assume people just know, ya know? My husband knows I love and appreciate him—then we wonder why long-term relationships fail frequently. My best friend knows I’ll be there for her—then we are shocked when she doesn’t ask for help after surgery. My brother is fine with me crashing at his place—then we question why the key doesn’t work and no one answers the phone. We assume that because these are our loved ones that they just automagically understand us and our intentions because it’s us, right? WRONG. So. Very. Wrong. Tell people how you feel, share you heart and how you are willing to make room for their needs, and for goodness sake respect them enough to get their buy-in. Don’t forget about your work family too. You know what I’m talking about. We work a lot, so our close colleagues can become part of our inner circle and feel like family. Don’t assume with them either because this can get you into all kinds of HR trouble and leave your colleagues and direct reports frustrated and confused. Show appreciation and confirm everyone is on the same page. Might you feel uncomfortable? Sure. Do you have to do this in every interaction? No, but often enough so you can know that you are not assuming.
Common Sense is Uncommon
That’s harsh and I use it to demonstrate that we can feel like that because we assume that everyone defines common sense exactly alike. Same can be said for acceptable behavior, patriotism, fairness and much more. We attract people who share similar views and even then, we can’t assume that we view everything exactly the same. Widen the lens to include more people and that’s when you’ll start to say “what the heck?!” a lot. Avoiding annoying people is often the remedy but what about your new brother-in-law or work colleague? It’s important to share your perspectives with new folks who will be a big part of your life and be open to hearing their perspectives too. Leaders and managers need to make their values and expectations known and clear—even providing examples of on-target behaviors and those that miss the mark. Saying ambiguous things like “be respectful” won’t get you what you’re looking for because that means something different to each person. The point is not to judge but to understand and find the common ground. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people is great but it becomes a bubble—POP! That annoying person who has the opposite opinion just busted your bubble and you must reign your assumptions in!!
Jedi mind junk strikes again! Assuming is your brain’s way of being efficient and also protecting you from unpleasantries. Thanks for your thoughtfulness, brain. Don’t assume your brain’s autopilot feature knows what’s best—take control so you don’t make an ass of yourself and others!