Have you ever heard that saying “when you assume, you make an ass out of you, and an ass out of me,” or the rough equivalent of that? Well the older I get, the more I start to genuinely understand the sentiment. Specifically related to organizations and how people interact within them, assumptions are like a gateway drug to getting really burned out really quickly. Assumptions coupled with the inability to admit you were wrong, are particularly dangerous.
A trusted friend once told me that when people assume, they are filling in a story they have created in their minds with the pieces they don’t know (I believe she learned it from this Brene Brown podcast). They are literally creating their own narrative. Sometimes this tale isn’t too far from the truth, so people start to trust their gut and do it more often. The bad part about making this part of your behavior, is that sometimes you can’t escape. You create a false reality and assign attributes to people with no basis other than the incomplete story you started with.
This can lead to a level of bitterness and distrust that is hard to come out of. It can result in you behaving poorly toward these characters you created, and unwilling to see even the slightest hint that they aren’t who you made them to be in your mind. When this happens, it is up to you as an individual to break your own habit. You need to look at yourself to determine how you came to those conclusions, and reach out to those people to allow them to tell their story.
I am currently living in one of these little bitterness cycles with some people I work with. I have been so beat down by their rhetoric and entitlement that I literally can’t see them as anything other than villains. Today on a call, one of them made some really thoughtful and encouraging comments to which I rolled my eyes. This is NOT the kind of leader I want to be for my team. I need to do some work.
I am working to put my beliefs in check and to look inward about my motivations to always assume the worst. I feel like this opportunity presented itself to me today after a problematic stint of reacting off assumptions (both personally and professionally). I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue to learn and grow, and that I am humble enough to do the work. Simon Sinek recently posted a quote on his Instagram that says “Leadership is not expertise. Leadership is a constant education.” What a beautiful promise of an exciting journey.
I encourage all of you to check your assumptions at the door (aka try not to be an ass), and have the self-awareness to challenge yourself when necessary.