Remember Schoolhouse Rock? Conjunction Junction was one of my favorites. As soon as I hear, “What’s your function?” I start singing (in my most ridiculous bluesy voice) “Working on phrases and clauses and such.” Are you humming the tune now too? No? Just me? Ok. I don’t mind, but I’m going to start changing the words. Now I’m replacing conjunction with “assumption”.
Assumptions are a bit like conjunctions. They connect concepts together. The problem? Those connections are all too often based on incorrect information and create a troublesome environment.
A-S-S-U-M-E SPELLS TROUBLE
We learned long ago that we should assume, right? We broke it out into different words. We said “You know what we get when we assume??” It was something out of “U” and “ME”? Yeah, I used to giggle at that too. And then I started to think about it and wondered why it made an A** out of both of us? Wasn’t it really about the person assuming? But I digress.
The point is that we know intrinsically that no good can come of it, yet we still manage to do it. It becomes habit as we freely worry without asking and plan without clarifying. But when we do this, we rob ourselves of many things, not the least of which is our own power.
I want to share a perfect example of how we let ourselves get pulled into the undertow of assumption. It happened to a business colleague quite recently, but could have just as easily happened to me…and may have happened to you before too. Let me know if it sounds familiar.
She had worked extremely hard on an assessment for a prospective client and had even gone out of her way to provide additional, follow-up information that was outside of her comfort zone and usual scope. She and her prospect were both excited during the meeting and it appeared to be a done deal. Then days went by and she didn’t hear back.
She began to wonder if the prospective client had changed her mind. She was so bummed and immediately shared this concern. She kept replaying the scenario and second-guessing what she did. She was convinced something went wrong and that she needed to work things differently in the future and even began to work on a new business approach. She was up in arms over this unexpected shift from a seemingly ready-to-sign client to the sound of crickets.
As it turns out, she wasn’t wrong about how the meeting had gone. There were delays in the prospective client’s life that caused the silence, so it took awhile to respond. There was actually no problem regarding the project or my colleague, yet until she heard from the prospective client, she was extremely stressed and already changing her business tactics and trying to resolve a problem that didn’t exist. She experienced anxiety because she assumed what the silence meant.
Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in while, or the light won’t come in. -Alan Alda
COMMUNICATE & KEEP CONTROL
I am not judging her in the slightest, mind you. I have definitely done this before too, personally and professionally. I know it stems from wanting things to go well and for people to like me. I have always read too far into other peoples’ communication (and lack of communication).
How often do you give meaning to responses without knowing for sure? “I think she’s mad.” “He’s not interested.”
It happens when you aren’t communicating and too readily give meaning to delays and silence, like in the story above, but it also happens where we can’t discern true intent. I believe that happens more often online where expression and tone aren’t as obvious. (Yet another challenge of social media.)
Even when it might seem obvious, you can’t be sure unless you ask.
As Don Miguel Ruiz urges: “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.”
ASSUME THE WORST, HOPE FOR THE BEST?
How often do we assume something good, right? More often than not, it’s a thought that something bad has happened and that results in worrying, which only serves to increase your stress. I know the saying is “prepare for the worst” and I understand that contingency plans are important. But I am talking about the emotion of the situation.
Emotionally speaking, assuming does nothing to help the situation. It does not benefit you in any way.
CAN THE CONJECTURE
If you want to break the habit of assuming, the first step is to learn to WAIT. After you’ve sent a response, a request, commented, read something…whatever it is…think of it like hitting the pause button. Look away. Distract yourself if necessary. Then if you need to clarify, do so if possible.
If you can’t ask and you must assume, then keep it positive.
Because here’s the key. If it ends up being nothing, there was no reason to worry, and if it ends up being a problem, you will have saved yourself the worry until you can properly deal with the situation.
So tell me, is this something you’ve dealt with? Do you have a habit of running with an idea before confirming with others? If you’ve done that, please share. If you haven’t, what’s your secret? These are natural tendencies for us all, but releasing them will result in a much happier you.
About the STOP SAYING SHOULD SERIES
In the Stop Saying Should Series, I’m focusing on a list of 7 items that sabotage our happiness
and productivity. These are things like saying “should” and comparing ourselves and our lives to others, as well as skipping the self-care and assuming what others think. The full collection can be found in this free inspiration sheet, but I believe each one deserves its own spotlight, so I’m dedicating this series to that.
Through my own development and my experiences with clients, I’ve found negative self-talk to be a mindset killer. Even for those who are positive and determined, how they treat themselves and perceive things can be a silent threat that sabotages all they are trying to do. That is why I wrote “Stop Saying Should” and how the list flowed freely from me. It started with that simple, but potent, phrase.