I often hear people say that you shouldn’t make assumptions.  But I can’t see how we could function without them.  For example, I have already assumed lots of things today; that taking vitamin C will help keep colds at bay, that the train I travelled on would (a) turn up and (b) not break down or crash, that my car would start even though it is covered in frost and hasn’t moved for three days, that doing an hour of Pilates exercises is good for me, that the roof above me will stay up, that I shall live long enough to finish this blog (if I didn’t assume this I wouldn’t even start!), that someone will actually read/enjoy this blog….and so on.  Life is just one assumption after another. 

Not only are assumptions essential, they can be very helpful in shaping behaviour.  I have a number of assumptions that I routinely find useful – even though I know they can’t always be true. I call them operating assumptions.  Here are some examples:

Personality clashes are always half a dozen of one and six of the other. I find it is much safer to assume this than blaming the other person.  It helps me to think about my behaviour and to take responsibility for my ‘half’.

It is better to err on the side of over-communicating than under-communicating.  I know people can suffer from information overload, but most communication problems stem from too little communication rather than too much.

The customer is always right.  This assumption leads to much better decisions about how to treat customers than assuming that they are always wrong, or even that they are likely to be wrong on, say, 50% of occasions.

Teams have the potential to thrive more on the differences between people than the similarities.  This reminds me that, even though managing diversity is tricky and often irksome, it is worth the struggle.

People are trustworthy until they prove otherwise.  This operating assumption has sometimes let me down – but very rarely.  It helps me to behave towards people as if they are to be trusted and, hey presto, most people respond by being more trustworthy than they might otherwise have been.

People learn all the time – even if it isn’t what I want them to learn.  This reminds me that there is no such thing as a non-learner.  Learning, like water running downhill, is unstoppable.

Finally, the people who are there are the right people.  This helps me to focus on the people who have turned up rather than fretting about all the people who haven’t.  The same applies to my blogs; the people who read them (i.e. you) are the right people – never mind the millions of people who don’t know what they are missing!

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