Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Trevor E. S. Smith | Be careful not to make assumptions

Published:Sunday | January 7, 2018 | 12:00 AMTrevor E. S. Smith

Is it our athleticism that fuels our love for jumping to conclusions?

How does "mussi" (must be) move from random possibility to concrete fact?

Where did we get the ability to thread together bits of information into skilfully crafted "facts"?


The Appeal


Making assumptions is appealing:

- It provides us with answers where none is available.

- It is more comfortable to create a complete story than to sit in the dark with scraps.

- It is easy. Just let your imagination go and it's done.

- We are encouraged to do it. We can usually find someone who wants the 'full story'.


The Dangers


In the rush to get 'completeness', we often overlook the harmful effects of making assumptions.

These include:

- Conflicts and their repercussions and impact.

- Damaged interpersonal relationships.

- Ruined reputations.

- Setting off a chain of far-reaching events based on false premises.


Bridling our minds


Left unattended, our minds can be likened to a wild horse. For it to be useful to us, we must learn to tame it and apply a bridle to it, especially for the new year. The importance of mental discipline is widely overlooked.

Here is a training exercise for our minds that helps to limit making assumptions.


Visitor from Mars


Approach situations as if you had just landed from outer space and have no clue about the situation. In that situation, you would be required to gather information without the process being clouded by your biases and experiences.

It is important to put aside what you think you know, as the slide down the slippery slope of assumption is usually at the very beginning. The mistake is made at the outset, and the error gathers momentum from that point.




Discipline your mind to live with incomplete information. There is evidence that highlights the fact that 'it must be', in reality need not be.

Learn to withhold judgement and accept that the jury is still out on this one. I just don't know. Full stop.




Develop the habit of seeking more information from reliable sources - especially directly from the individual(s) involved. Refuse the temptation to fill in the blanks yourself. Applying the discipline and craft of a good investigative journalist, is a skill that will pay rich dividends in your relationships.

Instead of using your creativity to make up stories, channel it to come up with probing questions that can unearth the facts.




Don't rush to broadcast!

The story you have created from your assumptions might sound credible to you, and is usually accompanied by a desire to share what you have 'learnt'.

That is the phase in which false accusations abound.

I recall a situation in which a security guard rescued a young man whose throat was about to be cut by his co-worker based on assumptions made from circumstantial evidence.

The impetus to jump to conclusions is usually greatest in emotionally charged situations. In those circumstances, the pumping of adrenaline prompts us to take swift action. Rational thinking is postponed.

We opt for primal reactions instead of responding thoughtfully and with due consideration.


Fix it


An overlooked element of the training process is the need to repair the damage. Take the time to accept and correct every instance in which you make a wrong assumption. The act of having to retrace your steps and deal with the repercussions of your error will prompt you to exercise greater caution in the future.


Call to Action


Don't assume. Investigate with an employee satisfaction survey or 360 performance appraisal assessments.

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