There is an old adage that some of us have probably run across: “Don’t assume. When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.” (ASS-U-ME for the uninitiated.) But I think the real and more important reasons not to make assumptions — about anything — is because you’ll probably never know the truth if you assume and that leads to false premises. False premises are akin to building a house on a pile of sand. Because the foundation is transitory, so is the house.
On Making Assumptions
Now, I’m not talking about making the assumption that it’s not logical or safe to swim in the ocean if you don’t already know how to swim. That’s a sure bet. I’m referring to making assumptions about other people, their agendas, their interests, or their personalities without objective, concrete evidence.
For example, you arrive at your friend’s barbecue and find yourself sitting next to a very attractive, nicely-dressed man. Although you take steps to initiate conversation, he responds very little and you assume that he doesn’t find you attractive. So, you excuse yourself and wander off to greener pastures.
Later, you discover from your friend that his father died a month ago and the only reason he came to the barbecue was because of her friendly persuasion that he get out and socialize. His non-responsiveness had nothing to do with you and was related to something completely different. Don’t you feel silly?
Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say
The most dangerous and damaging assumptions are often made in negotiations and in those situations where clarity of communication is all-important. One or more mistaken assumptions can sound the death knell for the dialogue without any of the parties necessarily knowing or understanding why.
It is always better to ask questions in order to obtain the answer than to make an assumption and be wrong. People will be flattered by your questions and they will take it as a sign of your interest and concern for them. Ask — don’t assume — and observe how your communication and negotiations improve.