Assumptions lead to 'shut down'.
We stop being open and receptive to the other person and stop trying to connect. The danger is that when we make these assumptions about people we pigeonhole them.
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If you are always assuming you know how others think and feel, you stop listening and communicating and leave them feeling trapped or misunderstood. And relationship difficulties, whether at work or home, can lead to low self-esteem and depression.
If you ask a room full of kids, what happens when we assume?
They’ll all giggle and say “you make an ASS out of U and ME”.
That joke never gets old.
But it’s really more than a joke, it’s a life principle!
Recently, my youngest son got a job; this is a major milestone and one we were eager to support. Because he was saving up to get a car, he had to rely on us for transportation.
Never before did the assumptions of a teen impact our family more than the day he assumed how long a test would take.
Since the evaluation was some distance from home, I dropped him off and waited at a nearby Starbucks for his call.
The laptop lifestyle of an entrepreneur often affords me that flexibility. However, he had “assumed” the training would take an hour.
After about 90 minutes, he sent me a text that the training ended at 6 pm (I had dropped him off at 8 am).
Both of us were clearly frustrated with this new information. I couldn’t help but recall a point I make in my project management seminars:
Unvalidated assumptions are a risk (uncertainty) to your project
For my son, it was the loss of what he thought was a day off with only a short appointment to tend to.
For me, it was the disruption of a day and unscheduled travel to the other side of town.
How to Avoid Mistakes Due to Assumptions
As I broke this down in my head, I saw 3 ways it could have been avoided, and these notes will help you as you plan your projects at work and at home:
Identify who the right person is to give you information.
In my son’s case, he was new to the company and wasn’t sure whom to ask.
He should have kept asking until he found the decision-maker.
In your organization, this sometimes requires internal networking and simply “knowing people”.
Leaders who don’t interact regularly with others are less likely to get in touch with the right people and can end up barking up the wrong tree.
Get out there, meet people, and find out who they know.
Once you find the decision-maker, ask them about the assumption so they can validate it or tell you otherwise.
You can simply state your assumption and ask if this is true or false.
Include that if it is false, please provide clarification.
This means of communication simplifies the exchange. This will work in person, by email, or via text.
Alternatively, you can phrase it as a direct question.
Had my son found a knowledgeable team member and stated: “I suspect the skills test is an hour, is this true?” they could have debunked his assumption.
Even if he had asked “how long does the testing take?” he could have saved us both the frustration.
Assign an owner to the assumption and have them monitor it.
To maximize your day, insist that the assumption gets validated BEFORE putting it on the calendar.
3. Treat as “Unknown”
If you don’t get a clear answer by the time you have to move, consider the assumption as an unknown. Do not proceed as if it were a fact.
You handle unknowns differently than facts, and that is for a reason.
You have to account for different responses and treat each as its own set of actions.
In this case, we assumed the event would take an hour, but we need a contingency plan if it’s going to be longer.
In this case, if the test is an hour then mom should wait nearby.
If the test is all day, then a ride home needs to be arranged. Two very different outcomes based on two totally different answers.
And there should have been an insistence in paying closer attention when he checked in upon arrival.
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to teach a teen to think like a project manager, here I sit at Starbucks still waiting.
Lessons happen for us all.
Hopefully, he and I will both learn from this.
What Happens When You Assume
I assume I know my children pretty well.
I know their likes, dislikes, fears, and dreams.
I believe my son to be a relatively shy individual, and I know that my daughter, who enjoys her personal space, will never be an overly affectionate child. No real surprises there.
I used to know these things, anyway.
Now, I’m not so sure.
My son joined a football league recently and was given a packet of raffle tickets to sell.
Personally, I don’t like selling anything, from wrapping paper to Girl Scout cookies to Pampered Chef.
The very thought of it makes me want to breathe into a paper bag.
Since my son is so very much like me, I assumed he was the same.
I was prepared to buy all of his tickets to spare him the anxiety.
Before I had a chance, though, we went to my niece’s birthday party.
Her best friend’s mother, whom we’d met briefly the previous summer, asked my son how summer plans were coming.
“They’re going well,” he replied.
“In fact, I just registered for Pop Warner football today.
Would you like to buy a raffle ticket?”
I immediately started laughing nervously; throwing apologetic looks at the woman for my son’s directness.
He glared at me and said under his breath, “Mom, stop laughing. You’ll ruin my sale.”
I slunk away, confused. I assumed that since I hated selling, he would hate selling.
I was wrong.
He’s a natural.
When an aunt said, “Honey, would you like to have more cake?” my son replied, “No, thank you. Would you like to buy a raffle ticket?”
Again, I was dumbstruck and started up with nervous laughter.
“This is so weird for me,” I said to the gathering, embarrassed. “I just assumed -”
“Well, you know what they say,” my husband interrupted.
“When you make an assumption, you make an -’”
“Yes and there’s another saying,” I said, interrupting his interruption.
“ When you say that about assumptions, you risk getting beaten senseless with a paper towel roll.’ Ever hear that one?
It’s one of my personal favorites.”
But of course, he was right.
The following week, my children’s piano teacher walked us out to our car.
As my son kissed me before climbing in, she remarked, “What wonderful children you have, and so different from each other.”
“Thank you,” I said. “They really are awesome — and they really are different.”
My voice then dropped to a whisper.
“For instance, my daughter has never kissed me.
She’s just not big on public displays of affection… or private ones, come to think of it!”
“I heard that,” she called from the car.
“Nothing wrong with her hearing, though!” I said happily.
A few days later, as she got ready to leave for an early soccer game, I said, “Mommy can’t go, so give me a kiss goodbye.”
In her life, this means offering the top of her head. I kissed it, turned to walk away, and heard a distinct “uunnnnh.
I turned back and saw my girl, lips puckered, waiting to kiss me.
Apparently, she didn’t want to un-pucker long enough to say, “Hey, get back here!” I bent down and accepted her kiss — on the lips! — and stood in the driveway crying in my pajamas as she and her father left.
I just assumed that since she had never kissed me, she would never kiss me.
It’s almost as if she were simply waiting for permission from me to do something new.
Which is kind of sad.
How much have I been limiting my children by putting these errant beliefs on them?
fact that my girl never kissed me only means that she never kissed me.
Period. I just assumed . . . again.
The danger is that when we make these assumptions about people, about our children, we pigeonhole them.
And thus begins a cycle of the self-fulfilling prophecy – “Well, Mom doesn’t think I like to kiss, so I must not like to kiss, so I guess I won’t kiss.”
And Mommy doesn’t get kissed.
If we don’t put the limits on them in the first place, then they won’t need to break out of them.
They can just be whatever they want to be, whenever they want to be it.
So I’m going to try to let go of what I thought I knew about my kids, and let them keep surprising me.
And a word of advice?
Get out your wallet, and pucker up.
You never know what’s going to happen around here.
Maggie Lamond Simone has been a columnist in central New York for 15 years. In 2010 she was a USA Book News Finalist in three categories, with one that came out in November 2009 “From Beer to Maternity”. Her second book “POSTED: Parenting, Pets and Menopause, One Status Update At a Time” came out and is available for the Nook and Kindle. Maggie also has a successful blog on the Huffington Post and has also won several national awards for her writing. Her first national essay was published in Cosmopolitan and she is currently working on a memoir about self-injuring called “Body Punishment”. Visit her website for more amazing stories and news at www.maggielamondsimone.com.