5 Reasons to Not Make Assumptions About Others

I made a mistake this week.  I made two assumptions that were completely wrong.

I am not typically one to make assumptions, but I was a bit off my game this week and fell into the trap I had been warned about many times over the years: "When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me."

My First Assumption

I was teaching a multi-day seminar and had a really rough start.  Not only did I forget my power adapter, but the projector at my venue would not work with my computer. 

These technical difficulties resulted in a morning session without slides.  In addition, the venue staff was trying to get things working during the first part of my session, so there were a number of distractions such as the projector turning on and off, people walking in and out, and the screen going up and down.

I assumed that this rocky start was going to result in poor survey ratings.

My Second Assumption

Making the assumption that others were going to be upset by the technical difficulties led me to feel more pressure and stress than I had ever felt in one of the many seminars I have done over the years. 

So I tried to compensate by identifying those individuals who may have been upset by the technical difficulties.

In looking around the room, I found one person who seemed disengaged.  In fact, he rarely laughed at my jokes, didn’t smile, and had even introduced himself to the group as someone who had been doing the topic I was teaching on since it first came about.

Needless to say, I was intimidated. 

This is where I made a second assumption - I was certain that this attendee didn’t like my seminar and was going to give me a horrible survey rating.

I don’t struggle with confidence issues during my seminars too frequently, but the rocky start really through me off of my game and I found myself making assumptions.

The Result Of My Assumptions

At lunch on the second day, I was still concerned about the gentleman who I thought was going to give me a bad survey rating.  Therefore, I decided to try to sit by him to see if I could do a little PR at lunch.

As I was up refilling my drink, the seminar coordinator pulled me aside - not realizing who I was sitting by - and told me that she had just had dinner with this individual the night before and they had discussed the first day of my seminar.  

To my surprise, this individual had been complementing me on how good of a job I had done and how my seminar was exactly what he had been looking for - something that he wasn’t able to get from my competitors.

I was shocked.

Here I had assumed that he didn’t like my seminar and he was actually advocating for me over my competitors who were much more established in the field.

And he wasn’t just an attendee.  He was actually the CEO of his company (I found out later that he doesn’t tell others this as the typical attendee is a middle manager and he doesn’t want others feeling intimidated with a “CEO” or “board member” in the room.

And when all of the surveys came in from my seminar, they were actually some of the best scores I have received.

5 Reasons to Not Make Assumptions

As we can see from my experience this week, making assumptions isn’t the most productive use of our time.  Here are five compelling reasons why we should never make assumptions about others:

Assumptions are Often Wrong

The problem with assumptions is just that - they are assumptions.  We try to put pieces of a puzzle together in our mind when in fact there isn’t a puzzle at all.  Just as I experienced this week, our assumptions are often wrong.

Assumptions Cause Unnecessary Stress

I made two assumptions this week - that my technical difficulties would be criticized and that one of my attendees did not like my presentation.  Because of this, I let myself become extremely stressed.  This drained my energy and I know I didn’t offer my best seminar to the group.  Assumptions cause unwarranted stress.

Assumptions Bias the Relationship

If we make assumptions of others, this can bias the relationship with them before we even begin to form it.  For example, I had assumed that the attendee in my class didn’t connect with me when in fact he was extremely satisfied with my work.  Had I maintained my reality that he didn’t connect with me, I never would have had the opportunity to actually connect with him - something I was able to do when the seminar sponsor told me at lunch that he enjoyed my session.

Assumptions Create False Hurdles

Another problem with making assumptions about others is that these assumptions create false hurdles for us to navigate.  For example, I had assumed that my attendees were upset with the technical difficulties so I had been trying to navigate that nonexistent hurdle the entire two days.  These extra false hurdles take away our time, energy, and resources and result in distractions.

Assumptions Lead to Missed Opportunities

One of the biggest problems in making assumptions about others is that these assumptions can lead to missed opportunities.  People are awesome.  But we don’t always fully realize this when we are making our first impressions.  If we start to make assumptions about others, these assumptions create a barrier that keeps us from being able to fully connect with others.  And without a connection, opportunities are lost.

A Question For You

When have you made an assumption about someone that was wrong?