“It’s All Made Up:” How to Avoid Flawed Assumptions

Poor decisions are often the result of flawed assumptions. Rushing to judgment. Misunderstanding. Equating to a similar situation. These are just a couple of reasons behind erroneous conjectures. What if you had access to five tips that would help you avoid flawed assumptions, thus making more informed decisions?

While in a leadership training program a couple of years ago, I found myself perplexed by something one of the facilitators kept saying: “It’s all made up.” Huh? He said it with conviction and passion as if revealing a leadership-enhancing secret.

But I have to confess. I wasn’t getting it. Each time he spoke those words, I would look at him quizzically. Eventually after hearing it enough times, I had an ah-ha moment. I realized the power in those words.

The Art of Making Assumptions

As humans, one of our jobs is to make things up. It happens moment to moment, often without our awareness, as our minds weave together a version of “rational and logical” conclusions. These conclusions, also known as assumptions, become our perceived truths.

Assume means to take for granted or without proof. – Webster’s Dictionary

These perceived truths are important because they satisfy our need to understand. They help justify or make sense of what is happening within us, to us and around us.

Left unchecked, however, assumptions can cause problems with our leadership, affecting our interpersonal behaviors, work place interactions and ultimately business results. Specifically, our assumptions cause us to

  • Respond with emotions that are unjustified.
  • React in a manner that sabotages the best intentions.
  • Provide direction that delivers less than favorable results.

5 Tips to Avoid Flawed Assumptions

“It’s all made up” can serve as a powerful tool for a new level of awareness. Before behaving or interacting in response to the perceived truth, take a moment for reflection and then get curious.

  • Reflection – Pause and take a deep breath while reminding yourself that the assumptions you are drawing may not fit the situation. Refrain from jumping in until there is more clarity around the situation.

Next run through a quick mental checklist of actions to help you avoid erroneous assumptions. Get curious by checking in to gain clarity and perspective.

  • Check your gut – As the assumptions you are drawing unfold, check your gut. How would you describe the feeling? What comes up for you here? Notice. It could be the feeling has arisen from something the current situation is triggering from the past. That in turn can signal the assumptions may not be based on what is actually occurring but rather influenced by a past experience. This gut check can alter the perspective for another way of viewing the situation.
  • Paraphrase – Sometimes someone will say or write something one-way and we take it another. To ensure you have not misunderstood what was conveyed, paraphrase by repeating back the gist of what you heard or read. Then check-in by asking something as simple as “Did I get that right?” This conversational approach opens up communication and uncovers truths for more grounded behaviors and interactions.
  • Honor perspective – People come from different backgrounds and experiences. As such, we tend to make assumptions based upon our frame of reference. What if there was another frame of reference from which to draw assumptions? Take a checkpoint to assess the ways in which you bias your understand and judgment. Open a dialogue to exchange information from opposing points of view. This exchange can help give new meaning to the situation and create possibilities that defy the assumptions.
  • Validate direction – If you have responded with a direction based upon your assumptions, ask “what do you think?” Then sit back and listen. This question gives people an opportunity to be heard, and the conversation can help validate your direction or redirect actions based on new information.

These five actions to help you avoid flawed conjectures have an underlying commonality. They all involve clarification through powerful questioning techniques. Open-ended questions can get at the heart of the matter, challenge thinking and alter assumptions. Moreover, they engage folks and enable learning, digging deep and discovering more.

Getting curious and asking questions is central for the leader within and to serving others with fitting leadership behaviors and interactions. How will having using “It’s all made up” enhance your leadership capacity?