“When you ASSUME you make an ASS out of U and ME”. I don’t say this (completely) flippantly, there is some truth in this. I first heard this from a quasi-mentor a few years back. It was spot on. I was running on quite a few assumptions about a pretty big decision and it wasn’t helping. We all do it though, and that adds constraints where they don’t need to be any.

When we are analyzing situations, generating and evaluating options, when we take decisions, we all too often run on assumptions that are never checked. It makes it quicker (we think), our brain loves doing these short cuts. We all say one thing, use a word (the bigger the better) and assume we are all on the same page.

We might be. Or we might not be. And, come crunch time, things are then going to come up later, to everyone’s confusion. People might feel hurt, angry, misunderstood, or they might take it personal. And it might well genuinely have been a misunderstanding. The later this emerges, the more expensive, annoying, time consuming etc it is to address, and the more goodwill might be lost.

So, let’s try to dig deeper (and do it right away): When you say X, what do you mean? What does “financially sound” mean for this decision and for the people involved? What does sustainable mean? Ethical? Responsible? Short-term, mid-term, long-term time horizon? Innovative? Safety? So many words get thrown around, inviting everyone to bring their assumptions along that then never get checked. If you are doing a decision by yourself, find somebody who is in your corner AND has your overarching best interest in mind, and ask them to help you unpick your assumptions (coaches do that, but it can also be somebody else you trust). Try to be really clear about what these assumptions are, and gently challenge them where needed.

If you have a new person on your team at work, this is a great exercise to see what the things are your organization takes for granted, and what basic assumptions are that everyone just accepts sight unseen. They might see it differently (ask them what the last invisible fence post was they ran up against…).

Like most things around decision making, these “short cuts” are not bad per se, but making them clear helps with making better rounded, more conscious decisions rather than fencing ourselves in where we don’t have to.

What are your practices to challenge assumptions? Please share.

Want to go deeper? Check out the values worksheet here.







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