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home : features : columns May 24, 2016

7/17/2012 1:01:00 PM
The Art of No Assumptions

Marta Adelsman

After my friend, Mary Cravets (now also my business coach), recently asked me for a back column for her e-zine about making assumptions, I was aghast to discover that I had no such column! I couldn’t believe, after years of teaching about not making assumptions, that I had never written an article about it. So I went to work, and here it is.

In one of my workshops, I lead participants through an exercise in which they talk briefly with a partner about their morning routine. Both partners, however, speak at the same time. At the end of the exercise, no one can report hearing more than a word or two of what their partner said.

In conversations, your mind noise has the same effect as if you were speaking out loud while someone else is talking. People attempt to speak into your assumptions, opinions, and made up stuff and you into theirs. No wonder you don’t hear each other!

You get into relational trouble when you believe that your assumptions and opinions represent the truth. For instance, your mind perceives that your conversation partner has flung a critical remark at you, so you begin to formulate a defensive response. Maybe you assume that the person talking to you is boring, so you allow your mind to plan tonight’s menu or your weekend activities. Perhaps someone tells a story that reminds you of something that happened to you, so you plan how you will tell your story.

In all of these cases, you have stopped listening.

Not only does your mind chatter have you stop listening; it also leads to misunderstandings in which anger, defensiveness, fear and anxiety arise. It provides the ego with opportunities to make judgments, to pity someone, or perhaps to play the victim. Harsh words may fly, which can then lead to more made-up stuff. You can see how making assumptions leads to personal suffering.

Good news! There’s a way out! It starts with becoming suspicious – very suspicious – of all your assumptions. Identify them, and then question them like a Nazi!

Next, check out with others whether or not your assumed opinions are true. “I’m making up that you meant to criticize me when you said that. Is that true? Am I reading it right?” To know what others really meant, you must hear it from their own lips.

Have the courage to ask questions for clarification. If someone accuses you of, say, being negligent, instead of becoming defensive, ask, “What’s your definition of the word ‘negligent?’” Keep asking questions until you have absolute clarity about what the other person meant. Clarify, and then clarify some more.

This practice opens you to true listening. Others will feel truly heard, and relational drama and upsets will drop away. Your conversations will feel satisfying.

Believe me, developing the art of no-assumptions is well worth the effort!

Dr. Marta coaches others to have satisfying relationships. Write her at drmartacoach@gmail.com or call (928) 451-9482.

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