The pitfalls of assumption

by Kok Jun Sern

Assumption, often referred to humorously as “making an Ass-u-me,” is a perilous trait that stealthily infiltrates our thoughts, interactions, and relationships, sowing the seeds of misunderstanding.

It can breed in both personal and professional realms, leaving a trail of miscommunication and fractured connections. 

The Pitfalls of Assumption

It is often dubbed as the silent saboteur or a serpent in the field of communication, silently injecting venom into our interactions. Picture a scenario where a colleague assumes a casual remark signifies disapproval, leading to strained workplace dynamics.

Alternatively, consider assumptions about personal relationships—assuming someone’s feelings without open communication can create unnecessary conflict.

Another common example involves the misinterpretation of an email’s tone. The sender assumed their message was straightforward, but the recipient, without the cues of vocal tone and body language, interpreted it as confrontational. This innocent assumption escalated into a conflict that could have been prevented with clearer communication.

Maya Angelou’s wisdom echoes the dangers of assumption: “Assumptions are the termites of relationships. All it takes is a single assumption to prevent an infinite number of conversations”. In relationships, assuming a partner’s thoughts or feelings without clear communication can lead to unnecessary conflicts, illustrating how assumptions can poison the well of understanding.

The Importance of Clarity: Illuminating the Shadows of Assumption

Clarity acts as the powerful antidote to the assumption venom. When we illuminate our communication with crystal-clear intentions, we dispel the shadows where assumptions thrive. The renowned playwright George Bernard Shaw once remarked, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” This illusion often stems from assumptions, and clarity becomes the beacon that dispels it.

Consider the classic phrase “making an ASS of U and ME.” This humorous play on words highlights the inherent foolishness of assuming without seeking clarification. The moment we assume, we risk constructing an entire narrative based on our perceptions, not the reality of the situation. This can lead to decisions, actions, and consequences built on a shaky foundation.

Navigating Clear Waters: Practical Strategies for Clarity

What we can do to clarify any situation is 

1.Ask Questions:

Instead of assuming motives or intentions, ask questions to gain a deeper understanding. Seeking clarification demonstrates a commitment to clear communication.

2. Active Listening:

Actively listen to others without coloring their words with preconceived notions. Paraphrasing and confirming understanding can prevent the pitfalls of assumption.

3. Use Concrete Language:

When conveying information, use clear and concrete language. Vague expressions leave room for interpretation and assumption.

In essence, assumption is indeed a dangerous trait, lurking in the shadows and threatening to poison effective communication. As Mark Twain wisely remarked, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” Let us navigate the intricate web of communication with the compass of clarity, steering clear of the dangers posed by assumption.

Kok Jun Sern is a trainer and communication & public speaking coach