When it comes to promises and trust, it behooves us to consider the impact assumption has on both receiving promises and giving them.
Assumptions can fall into many various categories, but for our purposes today, let’s break them down into ‘conscious assumptions’ and ‘unconscious assumptions.’ It seems to me that our lives are filled with both. Today, we are going to focus on conscious assumptions. In the next blog post, we will look at unconscious assumptions.
Conscious assumptions can be stated or unstated. Within the context of promise, an assumption that is stated is made clear by the parties involved.
For example, if I am making a promise to someone, I can think about what assumptions I am making that could influence the fulfillment of the promise. In business plans, there almost always is an entire list of ‘Assumptions’ at the end of the business plan so the person reading it understands what the plan assumes will be in place that is not an explicitly stated part of the plan.
Leaving conscious assumptions unstated leaves the promise made open to misinterpretation from the other, because they may have a different set of assumptions about what is unstated.
This happened to me recently. I had a meeting scheduled with an associate. While we had talked in the past about meeting in various places, we generally met at his office. I assumed this meeting was taking place at his office. But, he was under the impression that it was taking place at my house. So, I was waiting for the meeting at his office, when I got a call from him asking for the gate code to the condo complex I live in. He was at my house. I did not clarify my assumptions sufficiently with him to prevent the misunderstanding.
Now, I could blame him-saying he wasn’t clear on where we were meeting. But, the fact is that this could have easily been avoided if I had clarified my own assumptions with him. In truth, based on results, I wasn’t clear either. Both of us thought we heard things in our previous conversation that led us to make different assumptions about the meeting location. But, we were listening-at least to a degree-through the filter of assumption. Once you assume something is true, you automatically tune your listening to hear primarily things that back the assumption and literally do not hear things that are contrary to the assumption.
When we get lazy or distracted in the crafting of making and receiving promises, it is easy to allow assumptions to remain unstated, assuming that the other person has the same understanding we do.
Here are some simple steps to prevent unstated conscious assumptions (on your part or the others’) to undercut the promise made between you:
- Always err on the side of specificity. We covered this some in a recent blog. Don’t get lazy. Take the extra effort to generate clarity.
- Take a moment to consciously consider what assumptions you might be making. If you are not sure, ask the other, so you can clarify what needs to be clarified.
- When someone else uses non-specific pronouns, get clarification as to what they are saying. E.g. if the person says, “He will come at 8:00 pm.” Unless you are crystal clear, ask them to verify who they mean by “he.” So, seek clarification of what specifically is meant by “he, it, they, him, her, that, this”-all the non specific pronouns-if you are not 100% certain who or what they are referring to.
- Ask each other to repeat what you heard once you get an agreement in place. This often will uncover an assumption that doesn’t match what you intended to convey.
- Once the promise is in place, pay attention to your intuition. If you have a nagging feeling something may be off in terms of the understanding of the details of the promise, then follow up then and clarify.
There are many other ways to bring conscious assumptions into the light. These are a few.
There is a rigor and intentionality to promise and setting yourself up for the best possibility of a promise being kept. It is not difficult. But it does require being present and purposeful. Doing so will enable you to avoid many a break-down and missed promises.
This, in reality, is an honoring and deeply respectful stance to take with others. It relates to your personal integrity, how you relate to your word, and how much you care for them.
And, it builds trust, confidence, and effective action and results.