We all do it. Something happens, we find ourselves in a situation where an assumption jumps up.
An argument, meeting someone new, problem at work or in the home…I could make a long list. It is natural when such things occur we jump to an immediate assumption about what has just happened, what is happening and how it will end up. We base this assumption on experience (good or bad), comparison with similar experiences and consequences that resulted from these, upbringing with a bit of genetics and intelligence thrown in to create a window of reference on the world that we apply to almost everything that we do or see or experience. I don’t need to explain how this can cause us to have faulty impressions, followed by inappropriate action. Because it is our window of reference created by us, we tend to believe it and live our lives by it and see it as real. But just how much can we trust the assumptions we make? The law of averages tells us that, of course, sometimes we will get it right but generally not very often and not as often as we get it wrong. To give you a great example, a client of mine who has attached a label to his wife as selfish and domineering certainly has this in mind when he is interacting with her. Consequently, his assumptions lead to defensive behaviour on his part and more aggression from her on the other. You can see where assumptions play a part here. The mind believes only what we allow it to accept and reacts only to how it has been conditioned. Our beliefs are those we have formed. Whether right or wrong, they make up the system we act on.
An assumption is something we take for granted or presuppose. Usually it is something we previously learned and do not question. It is part of our system of beliefs. We assume our beliefs to be true and use them to interpret the world about us. If we believe that it is dangerous to walk late at night in big cities and we are staying in a big city, we will assume that it is dangerous to go for a walk late at night. We take for granted our belief that it is dangerous to walk late at night in big cities. If our belief is a sound one, our assumption is sound. If our belief is not sound, our assumption is not sound. Beliefs, and hence assumptions, can be unjustified or justified, depending upon whether we do or do not have good reasons for them. So from this we can say that our assumptions are formed from our belief systems (formed as mentioned above) and can also be used as a defense mechanism. If you put humans in any situation, they will start to make assumptions to gain understanding and the basis for action. If this is a threatening or dangerous situation, then our assumptions are designed to protect us in some way but unfortunately, we take this on to the next, maybe unthreatening situation.
How do we stop this and allow ourselves to react and act appropriately? There is ample advice on this subject if we care to look for it, from Covey’s stimulus-response model to David Burns similarly saying we need to count to ten before we respond in any situation (thought not when in front of a speeding car). Stop making assumptions. Learn to become aware of when you are making assumptions and understand how they can cause misunderstandings with these tips:
Assumptions and especially false ones tend to create drama in our lives due to the misunderstandings they cause. I often advise my clients to stand back and ask themselves the question “what is really happening here..what assumptions am I making?”
Pay attention to your inner critic who is generally responsible for creating the assumption. This inner “chit-chat” reinforces your fears and tells you that it is ok to believe what you do, even if it is false. Fighting the inner critic is crucial to seeing the world in a different way. More on this here
When communicating and you are unsure of what was said, ask and ask again. This could avoid making a false assumption and a misunderstanding occurring.
Do not assume that if you are with a person you know well, the same assumption always applies. This calls for effective listening to really understand what is being said. Trying to interpret what someone will do or say can be disrespectful of that person’s feelings, needs or values. Recall a time when someone made false assumptions about you—how do you feel? Resist the urge to accept stereotypes. Even though many times stereotypes might be quite accurate, they tend to cloud our judgment.