July 16, 2009

the danger of assumption

There is a difference between sharing information and projecting information onto another person, or inviting information to be projected onto you. Be clear about the connection you are trying to make: are you really communicating what you wish to be communicating?

Beware of making broad pronouncements and assuming that your listener comprehends your intended meaning. For example, we often tell people where we grew up, where we went to school, or what kind of work we do, out of an actual desire for our listeners to make certain assumptions about us. This is lazy communication: disingenuous, disrespectful, and potentially dangerous to the outcome of our conversation.

If it is a value you are trying to communicate, explicitly communicate that value. Share a story that illustrates that value. Do not assume that your listener understands the underlying values and intended meaning of your broad statements.

If you are asking your listener to take action, perhaps even to significantly change his or her behavior, both of you need to be clear about the motivating force for that action. That's the only way to sustain behavioral change.

Assumptions rob you of a chance to express and define your values and to be truly heard and understood. In our rush to connect with people (or our desire to manipulate them), we make broad pronouncements, actually inviting assumptions and stereotyping about our character. When we invite our listeners to assume things about us, we are letting them know that we are freely assuming things about them. True discourse has been halted.

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