One of the four principles Don Miguel Ruiz writes about is “Never Assume, always ask.” In my earlier life I would hesitate from asking because I wouldn’t want to sound stupid. But over the years I’ve learned that asking prevents miscommunication, doubt, mistrust and conflict in relationships. Not only in relationships but also in work environments.
So what is an assumption? An assumption is an opinion we form about a particular situation, an issue, and/or persons. Assumptions are based on our past experiences; we subconsciously project our past experiences onto the particular issue. We often jump to conclusions based on our assumptions and inevitably it leads to an emotional drama of some sort. The emotional tug of war can be with another person, it can be with our selves and our mind. The emotional tug of war can be draining and at times it can ruin relationships and it can create disagreements and ill feelings between people.
Why do we fall into that trap? Why is it that instead of being direct and asking a question, we end up assuming something automatically. An assumption can be something as simple as if you don’t get a phone call back from someone or if you don’t get an email back from someone, you tend to find rationales, reasons for that. Assumptions can also be that if a person is quiet/doesn’t talk much, introverted, they are either proud, aloof, unfriendly.
Assumptions are reflections of the way we view ourselves—if we assume someone may not want to talk to us, or someone wants something from us, in actuality, it’s really a form of rejecting ourselves. If we assume that the reason someone acted in a particular way was because they wanted to hurt us, or they wanted to attack us, or they wanted to have some form of control over us, in actuality, it’s really how we feel about ourselves. We need to look at ourselves honestly and see—how do we view ourselves? Are we insecure about certain things? Explore what our insecurities are and be honest with ourselves about it.
Also, if we learn not to make assumptions, we learn to accept other people more—we understand others better, and let them be who they are. We learn that it’s not about changing them—that if we change our reaction to them, in time, we may not feel the same issues or uncomfortable feelings that we may feel with each other.
Analyzing self-judgment exercise
- Think of how many judgments you make of yourself in a day. Now take it a step further—how many judgments do you make of others based on their speech, their dress style, their background, etc.
- Think about the first time you met friends of yours. What was your impression? Was it positive/negative?
- Think about how you walk by someone you work with everyday and not once you say hello to them because of whatever issues there may be and the one day you have a conversation you’re amazed to see how much you have in common or you were surprised that you made a friend.
Character sketch – journaling tool
A great journaling tool that I like to use to clear out assumptions is something called a character sketch. A character sketch is a written description of another person or a part of yourself. If you were to write a character sketch of yourself what would be included in it? I would advise you give twenty minutes to this writing exercise because it takes time to write about it. If you’re doing a character sketch about someone other than yourself, imagine yourself being that person or yourself being that issue or emotion and write it from that point of you. It’s a good opportunity to tune into your projections about the other person as well as assumptions you may be making. Some examples of character sketches are listed below:
- people you admire
- people who make you angry
- of yourself
- your friends
The next time you feel a specific feeling about something, do a check-in with yourself and instead of assuming, ask a question, clarify your doubt and you’ll feel a lighter sense of being. Remember, no question can ever be a dumb question!