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April 22, 2024

Unpacking Assumptions: How to Be Your Own Disrupter by Questioning Everything

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If your eyes are too tired to read, you can listen to this on Apple Podcast or Spotify. If you do jump over there, please do me a favor and subscribe and rate the podcast. 

If you’re reading this blog for the first time, the purpose of this content is to help you get shit done in your life by becoming your own disrupter. I’m writing a book about how an optimistic mindset is the key to smashing through the obstacles that stand in your way. I intend to make the case for optimism and disruption via this weekly blog. When I launched, I asked you to throw spears at me if you disagreed with something or wanted to debate. You did not disappoint.

The feedback I received from the last post was beautifully challenging. I offered a strongly worded opinion about police applicants who half-assed the physical agility test:

I’d count sit-ups and watch the clock for the applicants, and some people achieved the number of sit-ups with time to spare and just stopped. I remember thinking that this tells me everything I need to know about them—they do the bare minimum to get by,…that will translate to every other aspect of their performance. I believe that how you do one thing is how you do everything.

I received the following dissent from a listener in Scotland: Let’s pause to acknowledge how cool it is that I have a listener in Scotland. Anyway, here is the feedback.

“Thinking about the applicant who goes to the physical test, and maybe he needs to get just 30 sit-ups but still has time on the clock, he decides to stop. What if he’s not a person who only does the minimum? What if he’s just smart and preserving his energy rather than doing 60 more sit-ups just because he can? He may want to do really well in the bench press or the run and doesn’t want to waste too much energy on the sit-ups. So maybe he’s SMART!”

Ironically, I cited Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, “The Four Agreements,” and focused on “Always do your best” to argue that stopping short of full-on effort is never your best. In doing so, I completely ignored this agreement: “Don’t Make Assumptions.” I had zero intention of staying on the topic of Ruiz’s book because I was ready to move on to other content. However, missing the opportunity to school myself is never an option, so here we are delving into assumptions.

Assumptions are often made because we believe we know what others think or feel without direct communication. By not directly asking the applicant why they stopped short, the story I was telling myself is that they are only checking a box. I’m a crappy runner and still failed to consider that maybe they were saving themselves for the part of the agility test that challenges them the most.

Assumptions are the root of misunderstandings, leading to conflict, judgement, and a breakdown in communication because we’re acting on unchecked beliefs rather than verified facts. We act on our assumptions all the time. When I answered a text reply to my son with a simple “okay,” he asked me what was wrong. Nothing was wrong, and I asked him why he thought otherwise. He replied, “Because you didn’t put an exclamation point.” We get tone and intent wrong all the time – especially when communicating through text and email. Assuming the tone or mood behind text messages might be interpreted as dismissive or angry when, in fact, the sender was simply in a hurry.

I used to put a lot of stock in first impressions. I dissected behavior and demeanor upon initial contact, no matter how slight, and made assumptions about the person. First impressions are misguided quite a lot. Upon getting to know the person, I learned I just caught them in a moment of distraction or disengagement that gave me false data.We make assumptions in our friendships and personal relationships all the time. We all have different expectations of people, and when they fall short, we write fictional fables that are often the worst-case scenario. And most don’t turn out to be true.

And, of course, we make assumptions about groups of people. We label people and put them in boxes based on their ethnicity, gender, age, or appearance based on what we believe to be true. An insightful piece in Psychology Today discusses the role of stereotypes in shaping our assumptions and how they can lead to discriminatory behaviors and societal divisions. The article emphasizes that stereotypes are an excessive application of the human ability to categorize and make sense of the world, which, while necessary for survival, often becomes harmful when it involves negative or unfounded generalizations about groups of people.

Ruiz writes, “If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something, we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”

How do we avoid making assumptions when it’s so easy to do? Here are some tips:

Active Listening: This involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and remembering what is being said. That means putting down your phone and leaning into listening with your full attention. Half of miscommunication errors result from being distracted and not fully engaged with the other person.

• Direct Communication: It is crucial to have open and honest communication. Ask direct questions to gain clarity. A great way to quash assumptions quickly is by using the “story I’m telling myself” technique. If a person is acting aloof towards you, here is a suggestion on how to handle it:

“Hey, you’ve been distant. The story I’m telling myself is that you’re upset with me.”

Most of the time, the person will be surprised at your takeaway and provide reassurance. Or they may be upset with you, and you’ve now provided an opportunity to engage in courageous conversation.

• Reflective Practice: Reflect on past interactions where assumptions led to misunderstandings. Consider what could have been done differently.The latter will allow you to become your own DISRUPTER. You’ll become conscious of the times you went down a path of despair because you made assumptions about something that turned out to be completely false. When you feel that old familiar feeling, you can identify it and go to direct communication rather than working yourself into a frenzy. Taking control over our communication habits empowers us to lead more intentional and less reactive lives.

The most important thing to do is give people the benefit of the doubt and allow them time to explain themselves before jumping to conclusions. When someone pulls out in front of me in traffic and cuts me off, and I speed up to give them my best dirty look, I am completely deflated when they mouth the words “I’m sorry.” I assumed they were dumbasses who don’t know how to drive – when in actuality, it’s a fallible human who made an error while driving and gave the best mea culpa they could muster.

It’s also possible they are truly shitty drivers.

Or maybe your assumption about that person who is snubbing you is correct — and there is no further conversation or effort to be had. Sometimes, it’s not a misunderstanding.

Perhaps the guy who only does the bare minimum of sit-ups isn’t saving his energy for the next event. Maybe he’s just a slug.

Who knows? The point is to question everything, my fellow disrupters. Don’t make assumptions even though it’s easier to do so. Get curious and commit to doing the work to get to the truest information you can.

See you next Monday for my next brain droppings.

Onward and upward.

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