I got some valuable feedback from a client this week. They asked for examples of how to complete templates that I suggested they use. You see, as engineers, my clients are technical, smart and able to solve complex problems on a daily basis. So, when I gave them some templates to work with, I naturally assumed they would understand what they needed to do. My mistake! My assumptions were incorrect.
Assumptions are stories we make up to fill in for what we don’t know. We make assumptions when we don’t fully understand a situation, or when we can’t predict or confirm a future outcome. Sometimes our assumptions are “hopes” in disguise – wishful thinking, and sometimes they are “excuses”.
Think of a conflict situation or when something has not gone according to plan. How often does the conversation lead with “I thought…” or “I assumed…”. Don’t believe everything you think!
When we assume, it can have the following negative effects:
- Creating unnecessary stress
- Wasting time and energy
- Creating misunderstandings
- Missing out on opportunities
- Creating self doubt
- Offering the wrong product or service
The challenge is that we make assumptions unconsciously. Assumptions are a cognitive shortcut to help us function throughout the day without us needing to analyse every new situation in meticulous detail. We assume the car will start in the morning, that there won’t be an accident on the way to work, and that the coffee machine will be on, as usual, when you get there. However, we also assume that our colleagues are as committed to their jobs as we are, that they understand what is required of them, and that they care.
We also need to understand what triggers our assumptions. A positive person may assume that everyone is trustworthy and reliable. A cynical person will assume that everyone is useless and will probably let you down.
When we create assumptions, we then make judgements based on that basis. We need to replace the rush to judgement with a rush to curiosity.
The more we confront our assumptions, the more we will deal with facts instead of fiction. So, based on my personal learnings this week, let’s look at some examples of how we can eliminate assumptions:
The way to keep yourself from assuming is to ask questions. Valid questions are better than invalid assumptions. Don’t be afraid to clarify the situation or the task by asking. You assume your clients are happy. But have you asked them? You assume your colleague is on track to meet the deadline, but if you ask, you will know for sure. Sometimes the least questioned assumptions are the most questionable.
Test and measure
The only way to know if a strategy is working for you is to test and measure it. You can’t assume that the money you are spending on your digital marketing strategy is bringing you new business. You need to measure which products and services are most popular, rather than assuming. Make decisions based on numbers and data, rather than gut feel.
Rather than assuming what you think your customers want, conduct research to determine what their buying factors are, what they look for in a product, and what they are prepared to spend on a solution.
If I’ve made you think, do yourself a favour… analyse the next conversation you have with someone. Try and identify what assumptions they are making about you, and what assumptions you are making about them or about the situation. How can you steer the conversation to avoid the pitfalls of these assumptions?
Similarly, think of a situation or business challenge you are currently facing. What incorrect assumptions were made prior to the situation unfolding? How could you make your assumptions more calculated and accurate going forward?
Let me know what you discover and if you need help to clear up misconceptions in your workplace.
(Assuming of course that you’ve read to the end of this blog… )