In relationship, any kind of relationship, more often than not, making assumptions leads to poor communication and misunderstanding. Assumptions hurt. As a counselor, coach, and manager I am often in front of two people who have completely different versions of the same story. Yet, even though we have all been on one side or the other of this two-sided coin, we continue to assume rather than ask.
In marriage I hear, and probably say, “He has been married to me for 20 years, he knows how I feel…what I care about…what I want.”
A boss is quiet one day. Not mad or angry, just silent. Admit it, there is always at least a moment that we wonder, what have I done? Is she mad at me?
A friend cancels at the last minute on several planned activities, we assume they are not committed to the friendship. It doesn’t cross our mind that they are having problems in another relationship, are in crisis at work, suffering from severe depression, or any other kind of outside problem.
Even if we take the cup is half full view and always assume the best without asking, we may fall prey to naivety. We just assume if someone has an issue they will communicate.
It only takes the smallest miss in our assumption to still be totally wrong. And, a miss is a miss. Then, more times than not, the other person assumes back.
Double Down Assumptions
My husband and I have a history of bad gift giving assumptions. I assume he knows that:
- I do care about getting gifts
- I care that it is something that is thoughtful, not necessarily extravagant
- I don’t want something extremely expensive, especially if it isn’t a need
- I absolutely feel he has known me for 35 years and should know what I want
He is lost. He does the opposite of all of the above for years upon years. He either doesn’t get me something because last time I complained about spending too much money. Or he buys me something I specifically say not to buy because he assumes it is just the money I am worried about. Or I tell him exactly what I want, model number and all, and he doesn’t get it because he thinks that wouldn’t be a thoughtful gift.
And you can imagine the conversations or lack thereof.
What do you mean you didn’t think I wanted it? I gave you a model number for heaven’s sake!
Yes, I think it is a waste of money, but I also specifically said I don’t want it.
And so on, and so on.
This may seem a frivolous example, but that is the point. Think about assumptions on major issues.
When we assume:
- We are having both sides of the conversation in our own head and we don’t communicate to the other person.
- We are basically saying to the other person, I know what you are thinking or feeling even though you haven’t told me. I know your intent.
- We aren’t listening or hearing the other person’s heart or thoughts.
- Most of the time we are wrong….even if just a little bit.
A key communication tip you will hear from any communication coach is to never say “You”, always say “I”. If someone does something that makes us upset, the worst thing to do is to tell the other person why they did something or how they felt.
You are purposefully leaving your dishes in the sink, and your mess all over the apartment because you don’t want to live with me next semester. You are trying to make me leave. You know I can’t live like this.
When you leave dishes in the sink and mess all over the apartment it is frustrating to me. It makes me feel like you don’t want to live with me next semester. Why do you keep doing this when I have told you I can’t live this way?
The worst thing we can do is tell someone else what they think or feel. We should only say how their actions or words make us feel. No one can tell you that you don’t feel that way. But they can dismiss the conversation if they don’t really feel the way you are assuming and accusing.
Three-Step Solution to Avoid Harmful Assumptions
The funny and sad thing about the negative impact of erroneous assumptions is that they are so easy to avoid. And the antidote has so many benefits.
I have a long-time coaching client who tells me often that the most helpful advice I ever gave her was to talk to the other person, to ask, and to listen. This has saved her from so many arguments and misunderstandings.
Communicate – preferably face to face
Talking to someone in person, not by text or email, allows for connection, expression, and body language to be a part of the communication. You can’t read their mind by assuming, but you can hear them by seeing and listening.
When we are upset about something and our mind is assuming things whether we want it to or not, we usually throw-out accusations in the name of communicating.
Rather than telling someone how they feel, ask them.
Rather than accusing them of their intent, ask them.
Rather than defending yourself over what they meant, ask them.
It doesn’t do any good to ask if you aren’t going to listen to the answer. Truly listen.
So often, we are ever-so-slightly off in our assumptions. However, it takes careful listening to detect the gap. Once we ask, let go of our assumed answer. Listen for the real answer.
This simple three step process promotes direct communication, open interaction, reduced misunderstanding, more intimacy, and hopefully enhanced trust.
Assumptions hurt. Do your part to reduce the pain.