Preparing to depart, tomorrow, for a week of immersion in a culture heretofore completely foreign to me; I have been taking care through these preceding days to carefully examine my Baggage Cart for that insidious passenger: Assumption.
It. Is. Everywhere.
In the run-up to this project, where I will be working through interpreters in multiple contexts, my awareness of Assumption in daily social and professional intercourse has been even further heightened; such that I’m noticing the pervasiveness in everything from dinner conversations to elevator chat.
The key to being aware of the presence of Assumption – one’s own and that of colleagues, clients and others – is to Listen.
Listening, acutely, to everyone at the table: hearing what is said and extrapolating what may lie behind it…all the while remaining conscious of and cognizant to the fact of Assumption its ramifications to the course of conversation and the quality of decisions being made.
Yes. I regularly bring this up. That is because Assumption is The One Thing, passively dismissed, that runs rampant and unidentified through most conversations between human beings of every culture; causing subtle misunderstandings that build upon one another and take processes off track without people actually noticing as it does it’s evil work.
It is easiest to see Assumption in what isn’t said, just before what is said.
Read that sentence, again.
To discern that, one’s Listening must be focused on the conversation rather than on the formation of one’s own Next Statement. Truly, almost everything that comes out of our mouths is based on an assumption we make, just prior to speaking.
That assumption may be about a creative process, an approach to the resolution of a previously-encountered problem, even the personal resonance of a “shared” experience.
What do I mean by that?
Few professionals would tell themselves that their methods are “the only way” to accomplish a given task or project. That being said; many a time, I’ve watched as misunderstandings have evolved through the use of “common” terms in conversations referencing disparate experiences. I’ve watched conversations go off-track as underlying misunderstanding proceeds unidentified and people think they are making themselves clear, when the opposite may actually be the case.
A good rule of thumb is, when listening, to ask oneself if one fully comprehends what is being said…or is assumption already at play? Then, clear it up: now.
The Open Probe
To challenge another with “…well, you’re assuming…” or “…aren’t you assuming…” isn’t the most productive nor effectively diplomatic way to address and derail Assumption. Rather, pulling out an old Sales Tool – the “open probe” – can open a doorway to heightened understanding in a matter of moments…
What’s an “open probe”?
- “Could you say more about that?”
- “Actually, that’s not clear to me; would you expand on that…?”
- “You know what; that’s not clear to me… Could you give me an example of what you are talking about? I just want to be sure I get it.”
Contrary to what one might assume; this does not protract the process. Yes, it may slow the meeting, as clarifications are made and appreciation of common-ground communication is uncovered; it will probably both shorten the overall process and lower the overall cost, as well.
Meanwhile, it is wise to be aware that a question can sound like a Challenge, and to choose language that does not fuel that perception. If one comes from the place of truly wishing to comprehend and appreciate and is confident in that desire to know, in order to move things forward and facilitate understanding; chances are that motive will communicate in tone and word.
Ask questions: don’t assume you know.
Listen for assumptions of others and be sure that what is actually meant by what is being said is understood…by you, by everyone involved.
With assiduous attention to Assumption, one can rule the world.
You’ll be happy to learn that the fantastic and valuable book, “imho,” is still a free download for OS & iOS from the eBook store and iTunes. The basics, the Five Tenets, some pithy anecdotes. Don’t leave yourself out in the cold; download and read it.