How to challenge assumptions

We make assumptions, and believe we are right about the assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong.”- Don Miguel Ruiz

In today’s world, we are always under pressure to act now, rather than spend time reasoning things through and thinking about the true facts. We are often influenced and impacted by our friends family, our goals and aspirations. Our desire to lead a successful and healthy life can affect our habits, behaviour and how we live. But most of the times, we are also influenced by our expectations and assumptions as they too tend to influence our actions, behaviours and lives. We all have a tendency to make assumptions about everything, people and situations all the time and draw conclusions from them. We make assumptions about people’s feelings, needs, thoughts, motives and behaviours. Sometimes we guess about morality or credibility or goodness or badness in others. Despite facts and information, we bring our selective focus, our assumptions and our beliefs to what we think we observed. This not only derails us from our goals and stops progress in tracks but also creates self-imposed limitations, self-fulfilling prophecies, distorts motives and damages relationships. Also leads to wrong conclusions, results in conflicts, and impedes your creativity.

What are Assumptions?

An assumption is “something that you accept as true without question or proof.” They are often preconceived misconceptions about a situation, person, group or a task mostly based upon prior experiences with others or such situations. Assumptions are assuming the best or worst in people and believe them to be as absolute truths or swear they are real. Some examples are assuming that you are not good enough if you don’t get into a job you want or because you failed to get a promotion. Or you assume that most people are bad so don’t trust anyone you meet. Your parents never understood your choices, so you assume they don’t love you. At workplaces, assumptions lead to miscommunications, conflicts and affect your trust and productivity. For instance, assuming that a coworker has a full understanding of a project when they don’t Or assuming that people know why you came to a particular conclusion. Here is how certain assumptions lead to wrong actions.

• We make assumptions based on selective facts , beliefs and prior experiences.

• We then apply our existing assumptions and interpreted reality without considering facts and draw conclusions.

• We allow them to get embedded in our belief system and allow them take over based on these conclusions.

• We then take actions that seem ‘right’ because they are based on what we believe.

• This creates a vicious circle and can lead us to ignore true facts altogether thereby narrowing your field of judgment.

Why do we make assumptions?

When we are overwhelmed by fear of unknown or being unable to understand and prepare for certain events, we tend to make assumptions as they provide hope and direction in confusing times. But most often they are based on our emotions, superstitions, or misinformation and breed anxiety, hurt, anger and despair. They often lead to conflicts because of lack of shared understanding and agreements of the facts. According to cognitive science, in some ways, our brain is designed to make pattern or mental models to make it a more efficient machine. But most of our assumptions are actually learned behaviour. We tend to take on our parents’ or others’ assumptions such as assuming that we ‘do’ or ‘don’t’ deserve certain things or we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do certain things. As a result, we end up approaching our goals, objectives or relationships using patterning we learn from others.

We assume negative story lines when we feel left out or unacknowledged or when information we receive is incomplete. Our mind does best to make it a complete story or comes up with an answer to satisfy our questioning mind to return to a place of emotional safety. Sometimes, we are afraid to ask for clarification, so we make an assumption about what others are doing or thinking. We believe we are right about the assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally and we end up either reacting or defending and blaming others. Our need to justify everything, to explain and understand everything in order to feel safe is the reason why we make assumptions in the first place. In the absence of complete information, instead of asking questions, we tend to fill in the blanks with our interpretation of what we see and hear from past experiences, that seem similar. In trying to make sense of situation, we make assumptions.

How assumptions make you unproductive

Most of us like to think that when we assume, that we are right about our assumptions and that we have complete understanding of the situation. We think we know others’ skills, motives, abilities or competence. Because of this, we stop communicating and listening. Negative assumptions make us self-limiting and drive our behaviour in a negative way by creating spirals of self-doubt and black and white thinking. If we buy in to our assumptions – our mind is closed to various possibilities thereby disengaging us with others or opportunities. Instead of weighing up the information or evaluate the evidence, we draw unfounded conclusions in support of our assumptions or expectations both in personal or professional relationships. Especially in workplaces, we jump to conclusions without proper understanding of what Information is given or how that is understood or whether our goals are aligned with others.

In a work environment or in your personal life, when you make assumptions about others’ words, actions and motivations, you run a risk of being wrong and this can lead to unproductive habits, miscommunication and wrong decisions. We imagine that we understand why a person has taken a particular course of action and make a guess based on our past experiences, imagination or wishful thinking. Often we make the assumption that our partners in a business or personal relationship know what we think and that we don’t have to say what we want. If they don’t do what we assume they should do, we feel hurt, react or blame them damaging our professional or personal relationships. Assumptions change our attitude and outlook towards change or achieving any challenging goal. You can have vast knowledge and experience in the world, yet if you harbour the wrong assumptions, you become unproductive, stifle progress and are doomed to failure as they create lot of inner and outer conflict.

Many times we give into our assumptions like ‘we can’t do it’ or ‘it is too difficult’ and allow ourselves led by our limits, fears and give up on our goals. The problem with assumptions is that we make them as absolute truths and turn them into our beliefs. Here is why you should avoid making assumptions.

• Assumptions are an easy way out and are the major hindrance to your personal growth.

• Stifling negative assumptions show up as resistance to change and create no movement, no action therefore no results.

• They allow you to hide behind your version of the story and stop you from taking responsibility for your life.

• They keep you stuck in the past.

• Instead of asking questions to get to the facts, they make you jump to wrong conclusions.

• They lower your effectiveness in decision-making.

• They foster a negative and biased mindset and make you think that the others are there to get you.

• When making assumptions becomes a habit, we are less grounded in reality and more prone to creating problems for ourselves and others.

How to challenge your assumptions?

“The hardest assumption to challenge is the one you don’t even know you are making.”- Douglas Adams

Challenging and letting go of assumptions begins with willingness to let go of your rightness and revisit the thoughts you are holding onto. It is important to recognise how much your assumptions distorts things for you. Achieving workable and productive outcomes requires challenging such assumptions. The more you know what you are assuming, the more you can learn to get back to the facts and use your beliefs and experiences to a positive effect rather than allowing them to narrow your field of judgment. Here are some strategies to challenge yours and others assumptions.

Question your assumptions

A lot of times, we have trouble admitting that we assumed certain things. We tend to stick to our interpretation as an objective truth. Questioning gives space for other possibilities and gives you power to challenge your assumptions. A step by step reasoning process helps you remain objective when working or challenging your assumptions. Instead of drawing conclusions and making your decisions based on what you think you know, ask questions to challenge your thinking to get more clarity. Better questions include:

How do I know this? Is this the right conclusion? Why did I draw this conclusion? Why am I making these assumptions? Why do I think this is the right thing to do? Is my conclusion based on all the factsWhy do I believe this? Test your assumptions and conclusions. Analyse your reasoning by asking yourself WHAT you are thinking and WHY. Why have i chosen this course of action?What belief lead to this action? Are there other actions I should have considered?What am I assuming, and why? Are my assumptions valid? What are the facts that I should be using? Are there other facts I should consider?

Shift from expectations to ‘shared understanding’

If you are challenging someone else’s assumptions, it is especially important to be able to explain it to that person in a way that helps you reach a shared conclusion and avoid conflict. Expectations are just assumptions about the future. Many conflicts occur when your expectations differ from those of you work with. Do not assume that others know what is on your mind, know your tendencies or understand what your goals and expectations are. Take time to uncover the assumptions and expectations that are the root cause of conflict and convert them into shared understanding of facts. Trust others and be sure to encourage teamwork by clarifying your goals, expectations and their roles in achieving a task. Appreciate others’ contributions and communicate to avoid negativity. If you aren’t sure what someone’s intentions are, ask them. Develop a mindset of seeing people’s good intentions instead of always thinking that they are out to get you. Most of them may have different goals but they usually come from good intentions.

Be ‘mindful of your assumptions

Most of our assumptions are our thoughts we are so used to thinking and they can go by without us even noticing. If you aren’t sure where you are making assumptions, then look at places where you are stuck. Inevitably there will be an assumption you are holding on to or hiding out. Pay attention to when you are making assumptions and start to recognise that they are assumptions. Be mindful of moments where you feel yourself getting angry or feeling hurt by comment that someone makes towards you. Become self-aware of how many assumptions you make everyday by asking yourself as to whether your thinking is based on facts or are you filling in the blanks?

Being mindful and drawing your attention to the present to your thoughts can train you to catch more of your assumptions. Being mindful opens other possibilities and makes you unstuck from assumptions. Reflect on the following questions to challenge your assumptions. What facts do I have to prove this thought is true or isn’t true? What is a more realistic way of seeing this?Is this really my own opinion or did someone else teach it to me? Is this even really what I think or want to think in the future? What would it be like if the opposite of this assumption were true? What if I don’t need to know the answer about the person or situation?

‘Respond’ to others’ assumptions

Very often we find ourselves on the receiving end of other people’s opinions, perceptions and assumptions. When this happens, it can be tempting to react impulsively and become defensive. Or perhaps, if someone assumes the worst of us, we simply walk away from that person or situation, choosing to disconnect from them all together. When someone assumes wrongly about you, instead of reacting or arguing, use awareness to respond to them. Sometimes conflict can bring up tough emotions like anger. If you react in anger you can easily lose control of yourselves. Instead strive to understand why they are saying things they are.

When you feel hurt or angry about a comment that another person said to you, you should ask for clarification. It is better to clear your doubt to prevent misunderstandings. Give effective feedback to other person by listening effectively and being assertive in your response. Identify what you feel around the over-assuming person and focus on your emotions as they point what you need like to vent, learn, discuss, confront, or to set a limit to correct the other person’s assumption. Be modest, composed, and curious in your conversations and be willing to forgive for being imperfect. Communicate to the person and make your choices about how to respond. Base your response on true self in charge with clarity on your feelings and needs while maintaining mutual respect and attitude.

Communicate’ to challenge others’ assumptions

When someone reveals a negative assumption about you, communicate with the person with open-ended questions to question their assumptions:

I notice you are assuming that…

What led you to that conclusion?

Why do you think it will happen that way?

Where might that assumption come from?

How did you arrive at that assumption? What if that assumption is untrue?

What might happen if you choose a different action?

How can you verify or disprove that these assumptions are true?

Follow a non-judgmental approach to work with their negative assumptions about you to shift their perspective to build new insights.

Conclusion

Do you tend to make assumptions about your abilities or about others? Are your conclusions based on facts or assumptions? Does your opinions about a person or situation influence your conclusions? Have you ever had the experience of being in communication with someone who assumed you wrongly? Do you become defensive or respond to such conversations ? Note your tendencies so that you can learn to test your assumptions. Identify one or two assumptions you hold or heard and spend time challenging them. Ask yourself: what if it was untrue? What would happen if you let go of it? Are your insecurities colouring what you are thinking or feeling?

What you think more about, you create more of it. So if you dwell on your assumptions, your outer action will reflect them. In the beginning, it can feel uncomfortable to challenge that goes inside of your mind. Apply and practice the above strategies to successfully challenge your assumptions and to create awareness of how they are holding you back. Have open and honest communication in your conversations to develop trusting relationships in order to achieve your goals. When you change your assumptions from negative to positive, you unleash a stuck, blocked energy and can take action steps towards the results you seek.

Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.” Alan Alda