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There's No Room for Assumptions in Business
“Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble.”
Assumptions often lead us astray. After many years of advising business owners, I find their problems frequently stem from unproven assumptions. Therefore, during my work with clients I regularly ask, “How do you know that is true?” A common reply is, “Well, I just assume that….”(fill in the blank)
As defined in Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “Assumptions are anything taken for granted; supposition.” Sisson’s Synonym Book uses words like “arrogance, audacity, imagination, judgment, presupposition, suspicion, usurpation” to substitute for assumption. Many of these synonyms are negative and presumptuous, implying that we have overlooked, perhaps unintentionally, pertinent facts. We rely on our own interpretation rather than search for support of the truth.
When we assume, we have not fully tested our thoughts against the evidence. For instance, we blame employees for things they may or may not have done. We judge our partners’ motives based on their actions. We make business decisions by making guesses about our customers’ preferences. We rely on such limited thinking on a daily basis.
What if we are wrong? Is it a good business strategy to make decisions based on unproven data? No. The resulting consequences can be catastrophic. We must make the effort to check out our assumptions. Here are some ways to do that:
Some assumptions help us function, like assuming that our alarm clock will wake us up in the morning after we set it at night. We can then sleep. But many assumptions are dangerous–they tear families and friends apart, start wars, and destroy businesses. So begin by being aware of your own assumptions. Then work on keeping them in check. Verify them. Put them to the test. You might surprise yourself.
- Recognize the difference between assumptions and reality. People believe their assumptions to be reality. They are not. They are your thoughts about what you believe to be true. If you operate only on assumptions you are just fooling yourself and putting relationships at risk.
- Know your biases. We all have biases based on our experiences, cultures and thought processes. Know your own biases and be wary of how they influence your thinking. Stop yourself when your reactions and decisions are based purely on biases.
- Ask questions. Before you act on an assumption, check it out with those involved. Ask questions out of curiosity and keep an open mind. If you are truly curious, it won’t be perceived as an interrogation and responses will be less defensive.
- Listen to the perceptions of others. You will manage your biases if you listen to other’s thoughts and opinions. Don’t rely on their assumptions, but use them to check out your own.
- Investigate your assumptions. “Just the facts Ma’am,” to quote the old TV series, Dragnet. That means you actually research, examine and prove what you think to be true. You will then have real data to rely on allowing you to confidently make sound decisions, confront people and take any other required action.
Next month’s issue will report on the most common assumptions business owners make. If you have some thoughts, please e-mail them to email@example.com. Have your contribution included in the next issue of Growing Possibilities.