We live our lives by our assumptions. They serve us well. The advice and guidance we receive from those around us we trust, can be invaluable to protect and serve us, particularly in the early years of our lives.
When a parent tells us something a kettle will be hot, over time, we acknowledge this and some of the time, we believe what we hear, assuming danger as a first step before we test it out. We see traffic, and as our parents tell us it is dangerous, hopefully, we assume it will hurt – or even kill – us unless we step out into the road. We assume danger to protect us from physical dangers. And this is a good thing.
As we get older, we assume that those older and seemingly wiser than us have opinions we can trust and we believe them. A parent; a teacher; a boss; we learn to trust them because we think they know better than us. We assume from their positions that we can trust what they say to help us. We assume the best. But this is not always accurate. So we build a world around us based on personal experiences, part of which are the thoughts and opinions of others we should be able to trust, yet, for many reasons, may not be accurate.
And that’s where it gets tricky.
We make assumptions about people based on our best instincts, and because our own view of the world is not perfect, we can make mistakes. Of course, we stop ourselves from touching a hot kettle; we try not to be hit by a vehicle as we cross the road. We also make assumptions of people for the behaviours they show, which we interpret based on assumptions created by our life experiences in similar situations.
As leaders, this can be a trap to fall into. As we interpret what those in our teams do, we view it from our perspective, and more often than we might, we assume that they see the world through the same lens. Yet this is unrealistic. We all come to this point in our lives with our best attempt in the world to help us survive. So, when someone’s behaviour does not match what we expect, we assume they have made poor decisions. After all, if they saw the world the same way as us, they would make the right decisions.
And this is unrealistic, because we are all different.
We have to take a breath and realise that we may be seeing others from an assumed viewpoint. When we respond with consideration and step back from the assumptions and biases, and test out our view of people from hard, tested evidence, we appreciate their perspective too. We assume less and understand more.
When someone makes a decision; takes an action; or even avoids an involvement that seems unusual to us, we have to understand better the reasons for their choices. By building relationships so that we know them well, understanding our differences and appreciating the diversity of the worlds we come from – however subtle those differences – we can get on better. And in doing so, build confidence and encourage a riskier, growth mindset in people who, as leaders, it is our role to serve. We can realise their potential much more effectively.
By appreciating when people come from a different place to us, we can let go of inhibiting assumptions and be open to new viewpoints and possibilities. We give them the space to share their perspectives and learn from them too.
As we let go of limiting assumptions, our collaboration becomes all the stronger for it.