I love other people's assumptions, especially if they make me mad.
I didn't used to love them. They can be annoying, even downright infuriating at times. They can cause problems, block communication, create chaos and drama in seconds, and leave us saying “what just happened?” about the conversation we just had. On the other hand, they may contain hidden gifts that can help us grow, if we simply pay more attention.
Some assumptions are a necessary part of life and communication, I get that. If we didn't operate from certain assumptions every day all the time, we'd still be living in caves because we'd be wondering if the rock we want to sit on is sound for sitting, instead of assuming it is. I'm talking about the assumptions that come out of other people's mouths that we actually notice and experience consciously. We notice how they make us feel, whether it's good or bad. The ones that concern me are the ones that make us feel bad or mad.
I recently had a conversation with a friend that made me examine my own response to assumptions that upset me, and was surprised to realize I have a very specific strategy that I’ve developed over the years. It allows me to dramatically shorten the amount of time I might potentially be derailed by the emotional impact of someone’s assumption. It comes down to a five-phase process:
Phase One: Aggravation: The initial encounter occurs and we are a little bit reactive; depending on the situation and the person, maybe a lot reactive. It’s up to us to recognize when we’re being this way and make a conscious choice to step back from the emotional reaction in the moment.
In the conversation with my friend, I was talking about challenges with building my visibility as a speaker, coach, and facilitator. I felt like I had been out a lot at networking groups and such, but needed to make sure I was also paying attention to other aspects of business building, like writing copy for my website. The comment from the friend? “You won’t get anywhere hiding behind your desk writing copy all day.” She assumed I was hiding behind my desk all day, which was not the case at all. I felt unheard and frustrated. “That’s not how it is!” my inner voice said. “You’re not listening!” I thought to myself. Sound familiar? I changed the direction of the conversation because I knew I was being reactive inside and didn’t want it to spoil an otherwise pleasant chat by turning it into drama. In addition to redirecting my attention, I made a choice once off the phone to not waste excessive time wallowing in the emotional part. The aggravation phase is bound to occur, but we can limit the number of BMW (Bitch, Moan, Wallow) minutes we allow ourselves in any given situation.
Phase Two: Something Else Is Going On Here: We have the opportunity to remind ourselves that the other person 1. Does not live in our head and have our experience, and 2. Has their own perspective and experience.
In other words, don’t take it personally AND take a moment to clarify why it’s not about you.
After getting off the phone, I took a moment to reflect on why my friend would make the assumption she did. I realized that part of her challenge sometimes is sitting down and doing the work that needs to be done, like writing copy. She avoids it in favor of her own strategy that involves a lot of getting out to groups, and occasionally she says she envies me for being able to sit down and write for long stretches. This naturally colors any response she would have to my challenges. Psychologists call this deflecting, but I prefer to take the simpler approach and ask myself directly “why is this not all about me?”
Phase Three: The Real Deal: We can get real about why the assumption hit a nerve with us. There’s a reason the assumption bothered us; most of the time it’s because there was a sliver of truth in it.
I may not have been spending all my time hiding behind my desk, but I was not getting out as much as I needed to. Putting myself out there a lot more than I previously have can be intimidating and tiring, and part of me was not looking at that head on.
A few simple questions can help us in phase three. “What do I need to admit to, look at, or realize about this?” for example. Sometimes it’s as simple as “why did this really bug me?” Our job is then to be super honest with ourselves in the answers, and kind enough to recognize that whatever that reality is, it doesn’t mean anything bad about us. It just means that we’re complicated human critters with fears and other hidden gremlins that derail us sometimes. It happens to every single one of us without exception.
Phase Four: The Juicy Nuggets: There is always a gift to be uncovered.
In phase three we became aware of something. What is the lesson that shining a light on that something offers?
In this situation, the simple reality of my business building means getting out into the world a lot, putting the proverbial full court press on visibility. The lesson in its simplest terms: step up your game in this area.
Phase Five: Leverage It: Now that we’ve been aggravated, pulled ourselves past that, gotten real with ourselves, and uncovered the lesson, we can make the experience count!
How do we have the opportunity to use and apply the knowledge we just worked so hard to get?
After this eye-opening conversation and recognition of its gifts, I had a hard look at my calendar to assess my visibility efforts. I now have a fuller understanding of the importance of my visibility activities, have increased them, and I calendar them much more thoughtfully and strategically.
Assumptions are a natural part of human interactions. We can be dis-empowered by them, playing the misunderstood victim winning at the blame game, or we can turn them to our advantage and choose to experience each one as an opportunity and a gift. It just takes the desire to not be derailed, a strategy, and some practice. Take the above, make it your own, and come out the other side of other people’s assumptions with fresh a-ha’s to use and a grin, saying “oh yeah, I got this!”
You’ll soon fall in love with assumptions.