“When you assume you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” – The Odd Couple
We use assumptions all the time in our daily lives and they can be really useful. An assumption or guess when driving keeps us safe and alert. We can make useful assumptions about how people will behave and they can also help us solve problems. You can safely assume that the sun will rise tomorrow and that your kids are going to leave for school at the same time as yesterday.
But there are many cases where guessing at work can lead to misunderstandings and harm communication. Making assumptions is just guessing and often leads to bad decisions, errors and poor staff relations. Try real communication instead and become much more confident. Here are 8 reasons why you should never guess at work.
1. You think you know best.
You may decide that there are certain changes to be made in the office. But have you checked with the people this will affect? If you just guess that these changes are to everyone’s benefit, then you may be sadly wrong. One of the consequences is that this will cause upset and resentment. There may be big changes ahead such as downsizing, reorganization, new IT systems or just simply changing office layout. You assume that these changes are necessary and for everyone’s benefit. If, on the other hand, you decide to consult with your colleagues and ask for their feedback and opinions before making any decision, you will be on much safer ground.
2. Your assumptions are hindering progress.
You just assume that things are not going to change and you are really cynical. You know the joke about the cynic who voted against starting a Pessimist’s Club because s/he thought it would not work! Cynics are the ones who have really high expectations but will never put in the basic hard work to get anywhere near these goals. These negative assumptions are contagious.
A much better approach is to reflect on what your responsibilities are and to forget about your rights. You should be the catalyst for change and that means taking a much more positive and proactive approach instead of moaning all the time. Thinking and acting on creating a much better work environment is the way forward.
3. You make the wrong conclusions.
If you are under pressure, you may be tempted to take a few short cuts, instead of thinking things through. You may also cut corners in not checking last year’s sales trends thoroughly. Accountants sometimes fail to check figures properly and auditors are likely to find out. You make a few guesses along the way leading to a few wrong conclusions but the job is done and you have met the deadline. The only way to prevent errors which will come back to haunt you is to do all the calculations properly, investigate the facts thoroughly and keep any guesses you might have to make to an absolute minimum.
4. You pay far too much attention to office gossip.
You know the scene. There are emails flying around about which department is going to be cut and how many job losses these may involve. This is how rumours and office gossip start. If you analyze it, you realize that there are 10% of facts coupled with 90% guesswork. Another example is where one insignificant fact is linked to a management decision about firing a person. Maybe the person who was fired overrode the cash register without the supervisor being present. People wrongly assume that the employee was fired for theft! The consequences are that suspicion and time wasting reach unacceptable levels and there is very poor morale in your office.
If you are a team leader or manager, the best way to avoid all this unproductive activity is to make sure all staff are as fully informed as possible about what is happening. Be upfront about problems and practise an open and fair policy for promotion.
5. You are wrong about your colleague’s intentions.
You may wrongly interpret a colleague’s request to attend a conference instead of her. You start guessing. You are suspicious that she is setting you up for failure and you begin to mull over what may be behind this ploy. In this case, you have made a false assumption about what her real intentions are and this can damage relationships in the office.
It would be much better to ask her why she does not want to attend and what her fears are. She tells you that she is not confident about speaking in public.She feels that you are a better choice and that this is a great opportunity for you. Once this is clear, you will know for sure what she wants to do and why. It is always better to diplomatically ask about the reasons for certain behavior. We will never know the truth unless we ask.
6. You are not a great listener.
There are several consequences here. As you listen and tap and slide your smartphone screen, you start making a few guesses about the other person is trying to tell you. Not hearing a person out or giving them your full attention is a recipe for poor guesswork. Interrupting and dismissing the idea without full discussion is even worse. The solution is to ask probing questions such as why they think an idea might work. This will immediately prevent you from guessing. All too often, we do not ask enough questions and the “I just assumed” tactic can leave a lot of fallout which may be difficult to fix.
7. You neglect to find out essential information.
Let’s imagine this scenario. You are at a networking event and you are about to approach a prospective client. Unfortunately, he mutters something and leaves abruptly. Now, without finding out by asking any questions in a follow up, you begin to assume that he is not interested in your proposal or that you have done something to offend him. When you do ask, you find that he had to leave because of an urgent message from his office. But asking questions is invaluable when you have to find out if your business partner is happy with how you work together or whether a colleague is still on track for introducing you to a new contact. Failing to find out just feeds your assumptions and wild guessing.
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” – Henry Winkler
8. You fall into the trap of stereotyping too much.
If you knew my age, you would probably stop reading this article! Bill Gates is not exactly in the prime of his youth either. Seriously, we make all sorts of assumptions and guesses about people as soon as we meet them. We have categorized people into neat little compartments. So, men are better technicians, women are great cooks, seniors are slow and distracted, and certain minorities are not so well educated.
These assumptions when made with regard to individuals are dangerous and can be harmful. We need to get the facts and accurate information about any person before making an evaluation and later, a decision. This is of enormous importance when interviewing candidates for jobs.
“Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With this just one agreement, you can completely transform your life.” – Miguel Angel Ruiz
Featured photo credit: Internal communication panel/Cait Barron via flickr.com