We’ve all heard the what happens when we ass-u-me things. It doesn’t usually end well. As I say in my book Talking Change: Must-Have Conversations for Successful Leaders, ‘if you assume without asking your interpretation is lacking’.
I was on the phone with a colleague this week and she told me she assumed everything was okay on the project because no one had raised any concerns recently. Red flags started waving in my head because no news is good news is not always true on projects – complaints go ‘underground’, those with deadline delays don’t like to admit it, and you need to ask the right questions to get the right answers.
Consider these tips the next time you find yourself making assumptions:
- Don’t assume everything is okay based on what you’ve heard second-hand from others. Check with the source.
- It’s okay not to have all the answers, continue to ask questions until you understand.
- We usually ‘assume the worst’, we make assumptions based on our personal frame of reference (e.g., experience, values, beliefs, knowledge), so before you start checking your assumptions, consider why you have made the assumptions in the first place.
Checking assumptions is a great reason to have a conversation.
For those of you who enjoy being in conversation, like I do, you may be quick to pick up the phone and check your assumptions. But for those who are less inclined to engage in the conversation and just hope that everything is okay, here are some conversations, and a few questions, from Talking Change: Must-Have Conversations for Successful Leaders that will help you discover what people are really thinking (and check your assumptions). Conversation outlines and the full list of questions to ask are included in the book.
1. The Debrief Conversation – to gauge what people have heard and understood
- What facts do you know?
- What are you most concerned about at this time?
- What do we need to focus on to move forward?
2. The Coaching Conversation – to provide feedback and reflection opportunities
- What is working well?
- What is not working?
- What do we/you need to do differently next time?
3. The Status and Progress Conversation – to manage activities, issues, and decisions related to projects and work
- What decisions have been made?
- What issues need to be addressed?
- What are the risks and how are they being mitigated?
- Has any new information come to light?
The goal of all the conversations in Talking Change is to create common understanding. When we assume that we are all on the same page without checking that assumption – out loud in conversation – the consequences can range from hilarious misunderstanding to disastrous overspending or unnecessary risks. Checking assumptions goes hand-in-hand with my previous post – No Surprises – when you have the facts, and not just assumptions, you keep unwanted surprises at bay.
What assumptions are you going to check today?
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