Are you asking the right questions?
Do you make assumptions that cause pain later?
There is a scene in the movie The Pink Panther Strikes Again where Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) sees a dog on the floor as he is checking into a hotel. He asks the hotel clerk if his dog bites and the clerk, who is busy with other things, says “no.” So Clouseau tries to pet the dog on the floor and quickly gets bitten.
In shock, Clouseau says, “I thought you said your dog did not bite!“, to which the clerk responds, “That is not my dog.”
Naturally, we all must make some assumptions in life. We assume that the sun will rise, that our car will likely start, that electricity will be generated somewhere, and so on (endlessly).
However, in our work on projects and assessments, we see many of the most common communication problems have developed from incorrect assumptions.
“I just thought it would work differently.”
“I thought we were backing up all the data.”
I’ll grant that some incorrect assumptions are unavoidable. There are just to many variables in life and how we communicate to always address all the possibilities. However, that does not mean that we should not work to eliminate false assumptions when possible. Here are three quick tips that can help:
1. Constantly consider the perspective of others. Would they understand what you said? Does their background and experience match well with your project or idea? Why do you think that?
2. Limit the use of pronouns, which force others to try to figure out what you mean. “He said they were all going but then we told him that she would catch up later after they leave.” Huh?
3. Be appropriately detailed and follow-up in writing, as few people will remember things the same later.
False assumptions make for great comedy and daily humor at work. But they can also impede a great business opportunity or project, the environment where we really don’t want to get “bitten.”