The Impact of Assumptions on Relationships

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, an assumption is ‘a belief or feeling that something is true or that something will happen, although there is no proof.’ We all make assumptions. We naturally fill in gaps in what we think and perceive so that we can make sense out of our world and our experiences.

Assumptions influence our decision making, and this could be problematic. Sometimes the assumptions we make are accurate; sometimes they are inaccurate. Sometimes assumptions are productive; sometimes they are counterproductive. Sometimes assumptions build community; sometimes they destroy. Sometimes they save us time; sometimes they waste time.

As the author, Don Miguel Ruiz, explains, ‘We make assumptions, and believe we are right about the assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong.’

 The assumptions you make can build bridges or destroy them. They can make peace or start a war.

In your communication with others, notice you are making assumptions and then check them out, particularly when you make an assumption that is negative in nature. Negative assumptions are particularly risky to hold on to. They create resistance, resentment, and halt progress. They fuel blame and anger. They get in the way of productivity and positivity. If you are carrying a positive assumption, you have more latitude to decide if you want it to be unspoken; but even unspoken, positive assumptions can sometimes get in the way.

Whenever you make assumptions, you have an impact on your experience and the experience of others. Picture someone whom you know pretty well. What is one assumption you make about that person? Where does your assumption come from? Why do you have that assumption? How does that assumption influence your behaviour towards this person? Have you ever asked the person to confirm or refute your assumption? What would happen if you shared your assumption with this person?

Communicate your assumptions. In your interaction with others, listen deeply for assumptions. Once you notice that you are making an assumption, consider communicating it. The purpose of communicating it is to have it confirmed or denied. This creates an opportunity to clear the air or rectify a misunderstanding, and consequently builds trusting relationships.

There are different ways to communicate an assumption: perhaps the simplest is to say it directly – tell the other person that you are carrying an assumption, and that you want to share it with him or her to determine if it is accurate or not. It may sound risky – and sometimes it is – but an unspoken negative assumption is much more dangerous than one that is spoken.

Challenge others’ assumptions. When you notice another person’s assumptions, create awareness by telling them about it, and challenge them in a constructive way. You can do it by suspending all judgment and being curious. Strive to understand why the person thinks in a certain way from a non-judgmental perspective of wonderment. Ask open-ended questions that challenge current thinking and help the person question their assumptions and reconsider the issue; for example, “How do you know, exactly?” “What makes you think that?”, “What led you to that conclusion?”, “What if that assumption was untrue?”, “What proof do you have?”, “What if you tried another approach?”

Overall, it is best to notice assumptions, communicate them to others and challenge them to create awareness and a mindset shift that helps people get unstuck.

When an assumption is brought out and challenged, an opportunity for healing, growth, productivity, and relationship-building is created.

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