A Coaching Power Tool Created by Linda Hajduk
(Executive Leadership Coach, USA)
People make hundreds of assumptions daily. Assumptions are conjured up from various combinations of prior experience, advice, or even hearsay. Some assumptions are made without much thought. “If I put the key into the ignition the car will start.” This is an assumption based on experience. Some assumptions are accurate. Some are not. The more information you have to the situation the more accurate your assumption. Asking questions brings information to a situation, issue or subject.
In the absence of information, assumptions arise out of our own thoughts, beliefs and opinions. What we focus on in forming the assumption is based on our awareness or lack of in regards to the situation. We make assumptions about everything. Why people do what they do and what they are thinking. It is easy to see how assumptions can lead to bad decisions, self-limiting behaviors, mistakes and miscommunication. We react based on our assumption.
Making assumptions and taking them personally account for the overwhelming majority of suffering and drama we experience in our lives. By interjecting our own stories and emotion into our assumptions we create a whirlwind of emotions that do not serve us well.
It is important to know what impact assumptions have on our behavior. Is your reaction based on your understanding of what is happening or is it based on an assumption because you didn’t have all the information?
According to Macmillan dictionary an assumption is “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen.” Assumptions are thoughts like a word, idea or image that come into your mind. Assumptions can be viewed as something taken as being true or factual and used as a starting point for a course of action or reasoning. Many assumptions are based on misinformation, obsolete data or cultural traditions. Assumptions should be tested.
Assumptions are part of our belief system. A belief is a strong feeling something is true or real. We use our beliefs to interpret the world around us.We make judgments, form interpretations and come to conclusions based on the beliefs we have formed. Assumptions may be based on opinions or strong beliefs.
People make assumptions when they don’t fully understand a situation and feel the need to draw a conclusion. It is a natural tendency to draw one’s own conclusion in the absence of information. This helps us try to make sense of people and situations. The problem in doing this is that our conclusions may come from a negative belief.
Many of us believe our assumptions are absolute truths. Assumptions are not necessarily true. Assumptions are thoughts that cause us to predict an outcome. They are not based on facts or information but usually based on a past experience. If it was a negative experience the assumption can generate a negative response. By making an assumption we are saying we know the outcome before it actually happens. Assumptions have a strong influence on us particularly if they are negative. They are a reflection of what is going on in our minds. Negative thoughts of anger, self-doubt, worthlessness, shame originate from negative assumptions. If we believe our assumptions are holding us back from possibilities, imagine the opportunities if we let go of those assumptions.
Negative assumptions can lead to the following:
- Unnecessary stress
- Missed opportunities
- Low self-confidence
- Creation of obstacles that don’t exist
Let’s use the following example to illustrate a negative response from an assumption. You send an email out to your boss suggesting a new idea. The day goes by and you have not received a response. Your assumption is that he did not like your idea and this is why he has not responded. Now you are upset that you even thought that was a good idea. You spend the night upset, angry with yourself that you sent the idea to your boss. The next day your boss responds with positive feedback on your idea. Because your boss didn’t respond immediately you assumed he didn’t like the idea and this led to a negative emotional response. You wasted energy being in a negative place because of information that was not accurate.
On the other hand, assumptions can have a positive impact. Assumptions can also prepare and motivate us to effectively deal with situations we are facing. Let’s look at the employee seeking a raise. Before asking for the raise, the employee can assume various responses and questions from the boss. The employee reviews the assumptions and now has informed responses prepared based on the awareness she has about her boss and knowledge about asking for a raise. This gives confidence and information to the employee as she goes into the meeting.
Asking = Information
It is important to recognize that the lack of information contributes to the formation of assumptions. In the absence of information, we fill in the blanks with assumptions. We need to have an answer so we make one up.
Information is defined as facts provided or learned about something or someone. (Google) Without information we create our own “truths” that are not always correct. Those assumed truths direct our behaviors, beliefs and attitudes. Simple asking can provide information that supports or dispels an assumption. Asking for information would eliminate all the drama and stress that comes with an unfounded assumption.
People avoid seeking information for fear of what the answer might be or because they lack the courage to ask. Our fears and lack of courage can keep up trapped from finding the information that would set us free. Assumptions can be avoided through asking. If you don’t know something it is better to ask then make an assumption. Even if an assumption is positive it is still based on unfounded information.
If we believe our assumptions, we close ourselves off to possibilities. Lack of information allows assumptions to lead to bad decisions, mistakes and miscommunication. If you hold onto wrong assumptions you limit possibilities and forward movement. Allowing assumptions to rule you can lead to a self-belief that has a negative hold on you.
There are ways to keep assumptions from becoming immobilizing beliefs.
- Be aware you have assumptions – Increase your self-awareness to what is directing your thinking and beliefs. Ask yourself if this is an assumption.
- Test your assumptions – How do you know if what you are thinking is factual? What evidence do you have? Where or to whom can you go for information?
- You can’t read people’s minds – Don’t assume you know what a person is thinking. We often assume that other’s think and feel as we do. Ask questions before reacting. What you think may not be what is.
- Don’t build roadblocks out of assumptions – Don’t allow your assumptions to hold you back. Seek clarifying information to move you forward.
- Learn to work with assumptions – increase your self-awareness by asking for information. Challenge yourself to change your perspectives and create a new way of thinking if you are being held back by your assumption. Ask questions, and then ask more questions.
Assumptions beg for questions. It is important for the coach to pay close attention to what the client is saying. Through powerful questioning the coach can bring to light and test the client’s assumptions. The coach can then help the client gain awareness on the unintended consequences their assumption is having on them. Increased awareness helps the client decide if they want to change, which then allows the coach to help them.
The coach needs to ask questions that inspire discovery, new insights and ways of thinking. This comes from a safe and trusting environment between coach and client. The coach needs to be curious and non-judgmental. Let the client know when you hear an assumption. Challenge the status quo. Ask open-ended questions that probe the assumption.
- What assumptions or beliefs are you holding that are important to our conversation here?
- How did you choose those assumptions?
- How can you verify or disprove that assumption?
- How is this assumption serving you?
- If you absolutely knew that this was not true what would you do differently?
- What assumptions are you living with?
- How are they serving you?
- How do you know if they are true?
- Recall a time when you asked questions to verify an assumption?
- What questions did you ask? What was the outcome?