Dangerous Assumptions


I received an article from Dian Killian, an NVC Trainer in NY which sparked my interest and creativity when I read the title. Paraphrasing her initial assumption here, she speaks my mind, and found it worthy of exploration.  

She wrote, “In working with hundreds of people over the years, and of course being human myself, the issue of assumptions has come up again and again as a great source of disconnection and suffering.  We have explored some key assumptions that seem to be particularly troublesome. Here are three of them:         

1.  I'm right. 
2.  I know what the other person's intention is.
3.  Message sent equals message received.

These are only dangerous if you are hoping for relationships that are satisfying. Additionally, these thoughts (assumptions, judgments) are dangerous only when you believe them to be true.  Having any of these thoughts and being able to identify it as one of many thoughts you could choose to believe (rather than as the actual truth) could lead to an interesting conversation with someone. 

However, if we believe them to be true, it most often leads to disconnection.  And these seem to be some of the hardest beliefs or habits for many of us to interrupt.  What I find really interesting is that many of us don’t even know that these are assumptions we are making, until it is pointed out —and pointed out in a way that we can take a breath and be able to acknowledge that yes, these assumptions are inviting more distress to the relationship.            

In the list above, you might think it would be obvious to you if you are or are not holding onto those thoughts, yet in reality, I think it occurs much more subtly.  

For number 1 -I’m right. It could be that you are actually thinking that you are right and the other person is not understanding you or the situation correctly.  Or you might have thoughts like ‘that was abusive behavior’, or ‘they certainly took advantage of so-and-so’.  Or perhaps your thoughts are even more hazy and muddled than that.  If you find yourself just not curious about the other —you might not even think you are in a disagreement (because you are so confident of your position), yet there is a loss of connection, of interest in the other person.  This requires mindfulness and a willingness to see yourself clearly…again curiosity is the remedy. 

Similarly with number 2 -You know the other’s intention. I have been involved in my own and so, so many others’ belief of this and the often devastating impact on relationships this can have.  If you are blind to this assumption, and never check your assumption out with the other person, then make decisions based on your assumption, you miss out on the possibility of deep intimacy and connection and growth and care. Becoming aware of this dangerous assumption allows you to know enough to ask them about it first.  

I have developed a practice that I offer to people, which is ‘ask one more question’.  If you keep asking questions —rather than stopping a conversation because you feel nervous, or frustrated, or angry (based on your assumptions),  you might find yourself led to remarkably new understandings of your friends, co-workers, family, business partners.  

Finally, number 3. Message sent equals message received.  Because of our minds’ filtering systems, our personal histories and the way our neurology is designed to work, we are wired to make meaning of words that we hear based on our beliefs (assumptions of what is true). And, because others have an entirely different filter based on their own history and beliefs, we, more often than not, have only a vague understanding ofthe meaning of what someone is saying to us. And vice versa, you may find that someone else hears something entirely different than what you think you shared. The challenging part about this one is that you might not discover that your message was not received until it is revealed —at some inconvenient time. If you move through your conversations so fast without checking in, then down the line, you will discover that you actually weren’t in agreement and didn’t even know it.  No harm was intended.  We are just human and this is how it works.  The easy fix is to ask them what they heard —or repeat what we think we heard.  Once again, get curious.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?  Can you remember a time when one of these assumptions was at play in an interaction you had?  Do you remember how the situation unfolded?  Do you remember how you felt when you discovered these assumptions were operating?

As you can see, there is a particular kind of curiosity that can protect you from believing your dangerous assumptions.  Consider the situation you just thought of and get curious about these four things: What are the facts of what was said or done? What feelings arose for you or others? What needs or deep values were really important to each of you? What would you like to see happen to create a better outcome? 

One more thing. Yes, these 3 assumptions are worthy of highlighting as particularly troublesome.  However, any thought you have that you believe is true can have the same impact of confusion, misunderstanding and disconnection.  Which leads me to remind you “Don’t believe everything you think”.