Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Assumption is the Feast of Fools

by Karen D. Swim

As a teen I often quoted the familiar phrase "a-s-s-u-m-e makes an a** out out of you(u) and me." I have no idea where the turn of phrase originated or even why I said it so much, but as an adult I still fancy the simple message. Assumption can be good or bad. Being taking up into heaven is the good kind of assumption. Assuming power can also be good. If anyone wanted to assume my financial obligations well that would rock too. Assumption is bad when it is arrogant and pretentious.

I had a boss once who screened potential sales candidates by driving by their homes. If they lived in an apartment, she would not hire them. If they lived in a home that was "not nice" or in a "bad neighborhood" she also would not hire them. Her logic being that a successful sales person would own their own home in a "nice" neighborhood with acceptable curb appeal. Would you agree with my former boss?

My boss' assumptions were based on her value system and personal measure of success. This is where we can all get into trouble. By failing to expand the prism of our perceptions we risk becoming a horse's patootie. What if the salesperson was renting because they had made a conscious decision to donate 50% of their income to a children's charity? Or perhaps that person owned a home in another location and kept an apartment to avoid a commute. What if the salesperson owned the entire building? Could they have purchased a home in a less than desirable neighborhood that was on the verge of revival?

“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.”-- Orville Wright
The human race is diverse. There are cultural, gender, generational and individual differences. It is risky to assume facts not in evidence. Assumptions can hinder your personal growth, relationships and even impact your professional life. We must be willing to look past the top layer to discover the complexities that lie beneath. We are cheating ourselves and others if we hold on to a narrow world view where we expect everyone to be just like us.

How can making assumptions about the actions and comments of others affect the facilitation of a group? What are the cultural implications?

Photo Credit: © Brian Dunne |


Frank Conrad Martin said...

Excellent thoughts. For too long I fell into the trap of hiring people who were a lot like me - the company really needed diverse points of view from differing perspectives, but that was less *comfortable* initially. Now I look for people who are not like me at all - people with skill sets that are complementary to mine, and the company has benefitted tremendously.

Words For Hire said...

@Frank your point is a great one about hiring diversity. It's comfortable to choose people like us but as you pointed out we can benefit from having a diversity of perspectives and experience. There's a good discussion about this over at Secrets of the Job Hunt as it relates to hiring only from within an industry.

jamiegrove said...

It's my nature to grasp ideas firmly by the root and make them my own. This is often viewed as a strength, especially in the world of technical solutions, but I've learned the hard way not to make too many assumptions.

For one thing, I might be wrong. Second, moving too quickly sometimes cuts off the happy accidents of experimentation.

In staffing, I've always found that pulling together a diverse group of people drives innovation and understanding at a very deep level.

At times, this can be tough to manage, but by embracing differences teams become stronger.

Nancy Babyak, PMP said...

The real challenge for me has been playing the role of the outsider. I have been in several organizations that are rich with consultants. People come and people go. I have been in other organizations where the employees are long standing and certain ethnicities have been pulled into certain departments with little cross training or transfer to other rolls outside of the original department.

While I still see some cultural bias on occasion... I see more of the 'not invented here' assumptions standing in the way of true innovation and growth.

My best progress has been made when I am able to identify those people in the organization who are open to change in general and have them fight the good fight as part of a virtual 'communication' team to help open the minds of those who are trapped in their assumptions.

Words For Hire said...

@Jameie "At times, this can be tough to manage, but by embracing differences teams become stronger." You hit the nail on the head. Even when you have a group of like minded individuals you will have differences, embracing rather than homogenizing always strengthens the team as a whole. You are a wise man my no longer anonymous friend. :-)

@Nancy I worked in laboratory science for years and fought this battle often. We only wanted to hire people who were in our industry and we never looked outside of our industry for ideas and techniques. Organizations need people like you who are willing to insert fresh thinking and unite other innovators to do some good. In my book that is the mark of a true leader.

Nadine Touzet said...

What annoys me most is those individuals, like your boss, who assume that they are the only ones with brains, or at least have superior brains, and can thus 'trick' or trip others.

Diversity, in all its forms, is the key to communication and ultimately, to survival.

Words For Hire said...

Nadine, I agree with you. It is that kind of narrow minded viewpoint that hinders progress. You are also right that my boss accepted her opinion as fact and expected everyone to share it. However, when I encounter these type of people it seems to make me even more open and compassionate.

Jenny said...

This post makes me think of some times when I have done the whole making an a$$ out of myself by assuming something and I wasn't the only one who got in trouble for it. Assumption is a VERY tricky thing, I like how you broke it down.

Words For Hire said...

@Jenny, LOL! I can tell there is a good story behind that comment! I'm so glad you stopped in and shared. I really appreciated your comments on the MWP post too. We should form a support group to make sure we don't revert to our doormat ways and we never make an A$$ out of ourselves. :-)

sexy said...