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Test your assumptions

We could not function if we did not make assumptions – things we assume to be true and which form the basis for our decision making. However, when we make a mistake it is because one of our assumptions is incorrect. The assumption may never have been accurate or it was true at one time but not now.

It is therefore good practice to test our assumptions before we act, particularly for important decisions. If you are dealing with a situation where progress is proving difficult to achieve, or where there is resistance to change this may be a sign that one of your assumptions is incorrect.

You may experience inner resistance to challenging assumptions out of laziness, impatience or a lack of openness to alternative interpretations. Sometimes it is what we regard as ‘obvious facts’ that most need to be checked.

In testing any assumption beware of the risks of relying on hearsay or the opinions of others – if an assumption is important check it out for yourself by reference to hard facts, wherever feasible.

Often misunderstandings (= false assumptions) arise because we make incorrect ‘calls’ about the perspective/position of others. This may simply be because we didn’t ask them what they are thinking and feeling, and why they hold a certain point of view. When checking such assumptions, always listen to what is being said between the lines – what is not being said, and in the final analysis be guided by someone’s behavior, by what they do, not by what they say.

Related to the above is an assumption of trust in others, and sometimes difficulties arise because of misplaced trust. It is necessary for us to trust others, but it always desirable to have a flow of independent information to confirm that there has been no breach of trust.

So how can we be sure that our assumptions are valid? It has a lot to do with having the right mindset and a good tester of assumptions will :

– have an inquisitive, questioning and challenging mindset
– be open minded and flexible, and look for contrary evidence for assumptions
– be prepared to change course when presented with new information
– be humble enough to acknowledge when an incorrect assumption is exposed
– be systematic and structured in looking for evidence to support assumptions
– check out something or hold back if he/she has a ‘bad gut feeling’

Sometimes you will do all of the above and still not make progress or you may feel that you have not got to the heart of the problem.  In such situations you may be harboring an invalid assumption which is buried deep within you and that is part of your make up. You may not be consciously aware of such assumptions, and it is obviously not possible to challenge or change an assumption if you don’t know what it is !

For example, if you have difficulty delegating it may be because you have an underlying assumption that others are not as smart as you. If you are a poor team player it may be because of an assumption that you will not be appreciated if you are seen to be taking account of the opinions of others.

Some assumptions can also be inherited from our upbringing, such as assumptions about certain ethic or social groups, or assumptions of superiority or inferiority. You can see that it might be difficult to admit to having some of these assumptions/beliefs and support from a coach, may be necessary to unearth and change assumptions of this nature.

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