Identifying assumptions

I originally scheduled this post for the end of March but I moved it in favour of posts more immediately relevant to developing inner resources during the global pandemic. Managing assumptions is still a core life skill, though, especially in a time where rumours and disinformation have become so prevalent (however well-intended many of those chain-letter-style messages have been.) I highly recommend supercharging your digital skills for identifying and combating misinformation. And I have a few tips of my own for recognizing miscommunications and assumptions as they crop up in your everyday communications.

Often disagreements or disharmony in relationships arise out of unspoken assumptions. Frequently we don’t even notice that we’ve made an assumption. A coaching conversation can help tease out the facts from the ‘truths’ we’ve held on to without questioning them.

In a coaching conversation I typically notice these as statements of belief that are masquerading as facts. Sometimes all-or-nothing language is my friend here: “I can’t…” “She never…” “It’s always…” “Everyone knows that…” Sometimes it’s as though my coachees have become mind readers: “They think that…” “They don’t like/value/believe that…” “They’re going to…” “They did…”

Usually my first step is to clarify: “Let me make sure I heard you right: you said that they don’t believe you can do it?” It’s important to make sure we’re both on the same page. After all, I wouldn’t want to get trapped in an assumption at the very time I’m trying to help the coachee question one.

Then it’s important to understand the foundation of their belief: “How do you know they think that?” or “What evidence is there that they’re going to do that?” In every coaching relationship it’s important to conduct this part of the conversation in a non-judgemental way: I’m not here to tell my coachees that their opinions aren’t to be trusted. But nIeither am I here to accept what they say uncritically: my job as a coach is to help them challenge their current situations in order to create space for change. Sometimes this means learning to seek alternative explanations and perspectives. It’s important for the coachee to feel a sense of safety and support during this challenge so they recognize that I don’t doubt them or their abilities, but I’m asking them to use all the resources at their disposal to build the world they want to build.

Often when they take a step back, they find there’s much more wiggle room to interpret actions or beliefs than they initially supposed. This extra space gives them room to think about new actions to take or new ways to ask for the information they need to achieve their goals.

What assumptions have you noticed in yourself which have held you back from achieving your goals in the past? Are there any assumptions you might be holding on to now that are getting in your way?

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