Interpersonal Skills: Making Assumptions
by Laurie Wilhelm
We all make assumptions. I think they’re part of our survival mechanisms. We have so much coming at us on a daily basis that making assumptions is part of our mental filtering system that protects us from information overload. They also serve us by helping us make decisions and understand new situations more quickly.
There are times, however, when making assumptions creates difficulties and challenges in our interactions with others and in our relationships.
We tend to make assumptions when we’re missing information. When we’re in a situation where we’re lacking some knowledge, background, or context, we “make up” that information. Sometimes we can get so carried away that we dream up stories to support and confirm our assumptions.
By making assumptions we
1. don’t let others speak for themselves.
We speak for them by projecting our experiences onto them – we’ve already seen something similar so we assume this person or situation will also react or be the same way.
2. don’t really get to know the other person
When we get to know another person by assuming various things about them, we’re not accepting them as they really are, but who we assume they are based on our perceptions.
3. misunderstand situations and circumstances
We can make the assumption that a situation is better than it really is and not see that things are actually about to start breaking apart. Likewise, when we assume that a situation is worse than it is, we may try to fix something that isn’t broken – and then we really do break it.
4. make decisions based on the wrong information
When we’re in a situation requiring us to make a decision and we base our decision on our assumptions, we may not have the right information. We think that we know the facts when we’re really mistaking our assumptions for facts.
5. are offended when we think others understand us and find out they they don’t
We assume that the people closest to us know what we’re thinking and what exactly it is that we’re saying – even when we’re not expressing our thoughts well. We end up hurt and offended that they “don’t get us” and they “should have known what I meant.” While they understand a lot about us, they’re not mind readers.
Unfortunately, assumptions can be so imbedded in our minds that we don’t even know we’re making them. Needless to say, it’s hard to stop making assumptions. I mean, how can you stop if you don’t know you’ve started? I still have a tough time with that.
I guess the most effective thing we can do to stop making assumptions is to start asking more questions: “Is what I’m thinking correct?” “Am I missing something?” “Is this really true?” We also need to be open to answer questions from others when they’re trying to get information from us so that they’re not making assumptions either.
When we have the information we need, we’ll stop making up our own. And when we stop filling in the blanks with our perceptions, experiences, and stories we’ll probably have fewer misunderstandings, less conflicts and better relationships.