We are constantly making assumptions. And, regardless of their validity, they  influence (if not downright drive) how we behave and the results we experience. Assumptions are part of the human meaning-making miracle, a rung on the ladder of what Robert Hargrove calls the Ladder of Inference, they define the conclusions we make, reinforce our beliefs and determine the actions we take.

Assumptions are part of a feedback loop that continually loops around as we make our way through life. And if we aren’t careful they can have very negative consequence for both ourselves and the people we love and/or work with. A big part of what I do as a coach is listen for assumptions and habitual thinking. More often than not, a client’s inability to resolve an issue or move forward with a goal is due in part to the shackles of their misguided, inaccurate and sometimes totally unreasonable assumptions.

To illustrate my point let’s examine a hypothetical assumption that client Bob has. Bob assumes that if people value his ideas they will seek his input for upcoming projects. That’s what he does after all! Meanwhile last week his colleague Rebecca overheard him say that his stress was overwhelming and keeping him up at night. A big project comes up and rather than call on Bob for some insights and advice, Rebecca and the team forge on without him. Bob upon hearing about this feels overlooked and rejected. While he had been intending to join the team for lunch that day, he withdraws and eats alone. This happens again next week and Rebecca just assumes that Bob wants to be alone so she doesn’t bother to ask…and so on.

We can help ourselves and each other by examining our ladder of inference from time to time. Next time you find yourself challenged by a relationship or situation take a few moments to untangle your thinking, to identify the errors, and examine your desired outcomes.

Helpful Questions:

What data is influencing your conclusion?

Where did you jump to a conclusion?

What historical experience is influencing this situation?

How might your assumptions be undermining your results?

Have you checked your assumptions with the people involved?

What fresh thinking would help you now?

How is this assumptions holding you back from realizing your desired outcomes?