Assumption is the mother of all...mishaps. :)

Aug 10 • Ilona Nurmela • Comments: 0
What we say is not necessarily what others hear. It’s not about saying what you don’t mean or not saying what you do mean. We make assumptions that translate into conclusions that translate into actions.  Climbing up a ladder of inference. 

“I want to be alone” can translate into “I don’t want to be around you, go away, you are bothering me”, while what the person meant was simply “I need 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to think”.

We assume that others understand WHY we say what we say…without us having to explain it. Guess what, in personal as well as professional context we DO need to explain WHY we say what we say. We make assumptions that translate into conclusions that translate into actions. What we need to do instead is -  if we are not sure or don’t understand, we need to ASK others to clarify what they mean. Otherwise we might be climbing up ladders of inference and might end up having two monologues, not a dialogue.

Does this sound familiar:

“I think you will find our offer most generous…”

Ah-hah, they think they are getting this for a bargain, well I don’t think so! “As generous as it may be, your offer still fails to take into account x and y, which is the true value of the product.”

Hm, they think we want their product for x and y, while what we really want it for is z, but not for the price he is asking. “Look, this is my final offer. I really don’t have authorisation to offer you more and I’m sure my boss won’t either as he is negotiating potential alternatives as we speak…”

Ooh, stingy and bringing out fake alternatives. Well, two can play that game, the more so that our alternatives are real. “Well, why don’t you go and ask him if he can raise his offer, because we have other buyers that are currently outbidding you.”

Hm, we are bluffing about alternatives, they must be, too….

And so the deal does not happen as one party does not raise their offer - they incorrectly assumed that because they were bluffing, the other side was as well. The seller ends up selling to another buyer for a higher price.

What is the ladder of inference? Simply put - our beliefs make us attribute our own meaning to the data and experience which we select to believe and based on this we draw conclusions and take action. Basically, based on our experience we can jump to the right or sometimes also the wrong conclusions like put 2 and 2 together and get 5. (For more complex models and schematics, search Chris Argyris and ladder of inference.)

Why is this important again? Misunderstanding and wrong assumptions and conclusions breed conflict UNLESS we learn to clarify WHAT and WHY someone is saying something. Personally or professionally.

How do you get around false conclusions and wrong actions? Ask questions about assumptions, about how someone reached their conclusion, ask to explain what do they mean

And yes, we do select our own reality, so if you are living in constant conflict you might want to consider thinking a bit more about how other people might perceive your words and actions as well as contemplate why that is and whether you can or want to change anything.

Add a comment

Email again: