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Beware of Making Assumptions

I was having a wonderful discussion with a newfound colleague the other day, when all of a sudden things shifted. I have the highest respect for this person, so I listened.

It didn’t take too long for me to determine that she'd stepped into a dangerous place—that dark  hole we often fall into—giving unsolicited advise.

I've done it. You've done it. We all do it at one point in time. And, when we trip and tumble down that hole, we typically mean well. Either we have a passionate desire to help someone we care about. Or, we want to share some "vital" piece of information that we feel the other person needs in order to meet their goals. Often, it's a combination of both. 

I use the word "dangerous" because that's exactly how the conversation felt to me. You see, after two years of deliberation, I've made a decision to step into something that, at least for now, feels like a very big stretch for me. I am clear on the path. I'm clear on the methodology. I'm clear on the timeline, and I'm clear on who I need on my team in order to accomplish this next big thing.

Unfortunately, when I briefly shared this next step with my colleague, she passionately objected to every aspect of my decision—even going so far as to suggest a 360° change in both the messaging and the path forward.

Because I have such love and respect for this person, I continued to listen. Eventually, I calmly acknowledged her perspective. I thanked her for her support and interest, but I also called attention to the many, many assumptions that she was making about my business. What struck me most about her input was that it was based on a limited understanding of what I actually do.

Why Assumptions Are Dangerous

Assumptions are dangerous because they're often based on our own 1st person perspective. What we know to be true. Unfortunately, what we know to be true about another person's complicated life system is limited. 

Assumptions are also dangerous because they presume that I know more about your life than you do. Therefore, they are ego-based, more about me than you.

Assumptions are also dangerous when they are attached to passionate advise because they give us the false perception that we have power over someone else. 

Assumptions are dangerous because they can confuse our direction, misalign our purpose, and cause us to doubt who we are and what we’re doing. 

For me, the assumptions felt like I was being bullied into a direction that was totally out of alignment with me, my work, or the new found direction I'm taking.

Fortunately, I'm clear in my place within my own family and business system such that I was able to hold my ground. All this to suggest that clarity is useless if we can't protect our own boundaries. That's not to say that we don't want to be open to constructive and innovative ideas, but we must listen with discernment. 

The tone and energy of the person offering up advice is crucial to being heard. In this case, the blatant, unfounded assumptions about me and my work resulted in a deaf ear on my part. 

What I learned from this encounter is that I, too, must be ever-watchful of my own tendency to make assumptions about what other people want or need. And, when my own system is threatened, I must hold fast to those boundaries but I must do so with grace and flow so as not to undermine the well-meaning spirit of the person who cares enough about me to speak up and share his or her opinion.

It's a delicate balance to hold because, guess what? Even as we're leaning into their advice and the assumptions that accompany them, we, too, are making assumptions about their motive.

In this particular encounter, I believe I know this person's heart, her well-meaning spirit, so I "assume" she had my best interests at heart. I was then empowered to let it go. To hopefully maintain the relationship, yet, still recognize that her advice, while useful, must be held in abeyance—at least for now.

Question of the Week:

When have the assumptions of someone else pushed you into a corner of doubt?

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. August 2, 2019