There are these things that we assume. It’s hard to know the genesis of these nefarious little assumptions, but these assumptions over time harden into impenetrable truths; truths that stop us from growing. Assumptions can be passed down in organizations as tribal knowledge as hard and real as the building in which a business resides. They are so wickedly passive aggressive that we don’t even challenge these little bastards! If you’re in an organization the assumptions might sound like this, companies always choose the lowest cost provider, we’ll never get that account because they love the provider they have, the leadership around here doesn’t care so there’s no chance for change. Personally our assumptions can be even more destructive and limiting, I’m no good with money, I’ll never learn how to do this, or I could never speak in public.
I have worked in organizations where everyone believed with absolute certainty that they couldn’t hit a certain goal or procure a certain client. Enter a new member of the team unsullied by the assumption of the tribe who picks up the phone and BAM lands that account. What’s going on? Well, the rookie didn’t know that it WASN’T possible. The rookie was operating with a different set of facts. That’s right FACTS. Assumptions become perceived FACTS that individuals and companies live by.
I spend a good portion of my time working to dismantle, disrupt, and destroy what people assume about themselves, generating revenue, and their own agency in building their truth. I have literally said to clients, “I don’t believe that, but if you believe that it will become fact very quickly.” It’s startling to challenge assumptions, but it’s where all the good stuff resides.
There are ALL sorts of assumptions that compromise our growth and keep us from getting what we want. Cultural assumptions, familial assumptions, corporate assumptions, and the list goes on. The truth is that assumptions are only harmful if we choose to buy into them. If you challenge the assumption, you challenge yourself and open the door to greater possibility. Assumptions keep people from asking for more business, getting a raise, getting more support from their family, and learning to Tango or speak Spanish. They can seem simple and harmless, but in reality, they tell us who we can be and what we’re allowed to do and that’s downright destructive if it limits us.
So how can you start to challenge assumptions, change your behavior and reach brand new outcomes?
1. First write down some personal as well as professional assumptions that you’ve adopted as TRUTH. I recommend five. I’ll share a recent personal assumption of mine that someone challenged. I decided to schedule a private yoga lesson. I need to do something for my back but I have always resisted yoga. I said to the instructor, “I will be your most challenging student. I have no focus.” The instructor said, “I think if you’re able to write, memorize, and perform a one woman show, you must have an extraordinary amount of focus.” It struck me that I’ve long been operating from a construction that’s been completely manufactured. Now, I still may not fall in love with yoga – but we’ll see.
2. Take the five personal and professional assumptions and rewrite them. Notice when someone in your company makes an assumption that has hardened into truth and respectfully ask why the assumption is true and offer another way of thinking. For example if someone says, “No one cares about what we think.” Say, “How can we collaborate to present some of our concerns and ideas in a positive way?” When you start to challenge ideas that have ruled a culture, you create change.
3. Start acting based on your new assumptions. If you’ve never set up a meeting with a client about a product line that you’re sure they won’t purchase because they have a preferred vendor, set up a meeting and challenge your assumption. If you haven’t actually asked or presented your solution, the truth is you have no idea.
4. Pay attention to assumptions that have quietly formed into hard truths. Listen to others and listen to what you say to yourself. Noticing assumptions and interrogating their veracity can be transformational. Make a practice of challenging something that is presented as fact. You need not be confrontational, simply ask a new question. “What could we do differently?”
5. Be responsible for your assumptions. Too often we take information for granted. Consider why you believe something to be true. What’s your source? What’s the evidence? Is there another possible perspective? If you do this consistently and honestly you might find new opportunities and new solutions.