Recently, a colleague and I were discussing whether it’s ever helpful to make assumptions. My answer? I believe there are definitely times when assumptions serve us well. The problems come in when we can’t tell whether we’re even making assumptions, and how to distinguish between those that benefit us and those that are harming us.
Perhaps on some level our tendency to make assumptions is hard-wired into our brains as a survival mechanism. Consider the following scenarios:
- Dealing with a crisis where immediate action needs to occur in order to avoid loss of life or major damage. Think about rescuing someone from a burning building. We need to assume we’ll find a way to get ourselves and the other person safely out of the situation.
- Participating in everyday life functions, such as driving a car. We might never leave our homes if we didn’t assume that other drivers will cooperate with traffic laws and that we’ll arrive safely at our destination.
- Dealing with similar situations. Our own and others’ previous experiences teach us what to look for in new situations. In these cases, our assumptions can help us make faster decisions and avoid potential danger.
We can’t afford to take the time to question everything, either personally or in business. After all, if we don’t make assumptions nothing will ever get done. The important thing is to recognize which aspects of a situation are facts based upon concrete evidence, and to take responsibility and accountability for identifying the assumptions we create in our minds based upon our own values and beliefs. That way we can make smarter choices and build in checkpoints and contingencies for whatever comes our way.
In my next post, I’ll discuss warning signs to determine whether our assumptions are serving us, or whether we’re serving our assumptions.