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The Danger of Making Assumptions

In business, as in life, we all make assumptions about people and events, and we do this because we believe the assumptions to be true. We take it personally when our assumptions are shown to be false.

We often make assumptions to avoid the appearance of being ignorant or to avoid showing a lack of understanding. People often equate asking questions with weakness, and will make assumptions based on what they heard. We then proceed to defend them and go out of our way to prove the other person wrong.

Mr. Miguel Ruiz talks about the consequences and suffering that comes from this behavior. In his book The Four Agreements he makes an eloquent argument that making assumptions about events and people can lead to a complete failure of understanding. This can be both destructive and very costly to a business relationship.

If, having entered into a business relationship with another company or individual, you make the assumption that the other party sees the agreement the same way you do, and in the course of executing the specifics of the agreement, you discover that the other party does not see the details of the agreement in the same way, this inevitably produces conflict. The conflict amplifies the perceived differences and makes it harder to reach accommodation, particularly when the conflict is not addressed quickly or constructively. Both parties begin to spend time and resources justifying their points of view and defending them to the other party trying, as stated earlier, to prove the opposing point of view to be wrong.

Don Miguel Ruiz makes the argument that if words and phrases are offered with impeccable clarity, assumptions and misunderstandings are defeated, and conflict cannot rise up or be sustained. There is a powerful truth in his hypothesis because successful leaders learn early that assumptions are defeated at the outset by asking questions. They learn at their own risk that failing to ask questions can be fatal to the effective execution of an agreement and that asking questions both improves communications, and improves the clarity of what is communicated.