Never Assume – Always Clarify by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

“Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstanding, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”

~Don Miguel Ruiz

Don Miguel Ruiz wrote “The Four Agreements” in 2018, and it has become a bestseller. The agreements included in his teachings include to be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best.

There is a reason why assumptions are so important. Assumptions are statements that we take to be true without any proof. In this way, assumptions are a belief that we hold simply because we hold it. They are not something that is valid or accurate, and our assumptions or presumptions are often based on our life experiences, our early childhood teachings, and our perception of the world around us.

In the workplace or in a personal relationship, assumptions are the cause of a significant amount of conflict, distrust, and discord. Recognizing when we are acting out of an assumption is critical to identify the issue and to ask for more information before jumping to a conclusion.

Checking for Assumptions

A key to detecting assumptions in our thoughts and conversations is in asking ourselves a simple question. That question is, “How do I know this is true?”

If the answer is not based on fact but on other people’s impressions or your own perception of the situation, assume it may not be accurate. This leaves you with the opportunity to ask for clarification to avoid any misunderstanding.

Asking clarifying questions helps to complete the picture and to avoid filling in misinformation. Clarifying questions look and sound like:

  • I hear you saying XYZ, is that correct?
  • Can you tell me more about the data you used to obtain these results?
  • I heard you say X and I want to make sure I understand. What other information can you provide?
  • How will X be implemented?
  • What is the specific timeline for the project?

Clarifying questions should be non-judgmental and ask for more information. Be careful not to add a judgment component to the question based on your assumption. The difference is easy to see with an example:

Clarifying: I hear you saying XYZ, did I get that right?

Judgment: I know you don’t mean this but did you say XYZ?

Asking clarifying questions may take a few seconds in a conversation, but it helps to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. Clarifying questions can also be essential in email and text conversations where there is an even greater risk of filling in the blanks with assumptions.