Unchecked Assumptions Kill Relationships and Problem Solving

When you have a problem you want to solve you have to remember all the baggage you bring to it in the form of your opinions and assumptions. Perhaps these form in part, by a valid experience but they are often formed simply by your own belief system. Trying to work through the issue with your assumptions and opinions unchecked will definitely not help you resolve the issue. If the issue involves another person and your only attempt to solve the issue revolves around trying to get the other person to understand your assumptions and opinions – well, you know that will lead to probably an argument or ruined relationship, a firing at work, or even straight to the lawyer’s door.

Carrying your opinions and assumptions around as they define you is a big mistake. They give you no room to move and you become STUCK at a place that will only get you so far – whether that be at work, in your relationship, or with a problem. You must create some wiggle room for yourself by being willing to let go of opinions and assumptions. One way to do this is to practice refusing to form these opinions and assumptions before you find out the truth. This is difficult because there is so much in life that we do not care about enough to find out the truth so we ride our opinions. This is understandable on some level.

However, I know that, for all of us, even when something is important enough for us to find out the truth we do not and choose instead to snuggle up with our opinions and assumptions. In fact, we hold on so tight that if questioned those opinions and assumptions turn into….” the fact of the matter is….” This is so dangerous to your integrity and really destructive to your own advancement as a person as well as to you getting what you want in all areas of your life.

We have to stop holding on to our own belief system so tightly and be willing to risk it to find out facts and ultimately, truth. We have to be open to hearing facts and not automatically turn off when we hear something that is off-key to the melody to which we are accustomed. As a Christian, I think of myself when I often harden to Christ. I read somewhere that our hearts have to be like soft clay so He can come in and shape it at any time. If we harden up, how is He going to work in us? Our belief system has to be more like soft clay. It has to be willing to be changed by truth. We have to be open enough to hear something that is completely anti what we WANT to believe and then go further and suck it in, digest it, admit it, and give ourselves time to incorporate it within ourselves.

A practical step to take is to start asking open-ended, diagnostic questions. We have to be willing to be curious and ask people questions without first forming a belief about them. That basically means putting the other person first and not only taking the time to figure them out but doing it with genuine curiosity with no evidence of sarcasm or doubt or suspicion stemming from your own entrenched assumptions or beliefs. Search out their motives and reasons for wanting what they want or doing what they do, in truth, with a good heart, and you might be amazed at what you hear. In fact, many times you will be surprised to find out where they are coming from.

There is a site called She Negotiates…And Changes Everything. The women who run this site are amazing negotiators, trainers, and coaches. They target women and provide training and coaching to help women get what they want. I received this short article from their Tuesday “Muse” free emails – just sign up and you can receive them too. The article is wonderful and the inspiration for this post.

I had an assumption about the guy who lives in the rental next door to me who sports a comb-over and loves high rise jeans. Know what it is? That he’s a lonely trust fund brat. Wanna know the truth? He’s commercial director and the “rental” is his getaway and he has to wear high rise pants because he has a colostomy bag due to a chronic illness.
If you’re like me, you carry lots of opinions and assumptions about everything under the sun. Unchecked, they’ll kill relationship as fast as they kill collaboration, brainstorming and problem solving. Some examples are:
• I can’t ask for a raise because I’ll get fired if I do.
• I can’t raise my fees or nobody will hire me.
• I can’t t ask Jane to pick up my son at school when I’m in a pinch because she’s too busy.
• I can’t sit on the board of my favorite nonprofit because they’re all Republicans.
• I can’t ask to join the leadership council because that’s not the way it’s done. I have to be invited

The social scientists who research these things call this “selective perception,” a form of cognitive bias that reveals our tendency to perceive things according to our belief system and to react to circumstances based on them.

What happens to those beliefs/examples when you add the question, “Really? Is that true?” Any wiggle room begin to emerge?

So what if we take the month of December to find more wiggle room with our staunchest, most entrenched beliefs, and do our best to replace them with curiosity? (If you’ll be visiting with family over the holidays, this exercise could make all the difference.)