"Let's go to the electrical boxes."
I was out for a walk with my family last month. We were at the local museum parking lot, which has many interesting treasures to explore.
While I was distracted by a text on my phone, my husband said to my daughter, "Let's go to the electrical boxes."
Immediately I got an image in my mind of where they were going. And I felt assured I knew where to find them. But when I looked up from my phone, they weren't there.
This type of false assumption happens in conversation all the time. We instantly ascribe meaning to something we hear, getting an image in our mind of what the other person said. Then, operate based on those assumptions.
Unlike my story above, we don’t always get immediate feedback indicating our assumptions were incorrect. Sometimes we don't become aware of the disconnect until much later. The longer we hold onto them, the more entrenched we become believing our assumptions are the Truth.
This is why it is so important to test our assumptions. To share with others the story we're telling ourselves instead of keeping it in our heads. But doing so requires a deeper level of self-awareness.
We must be able to recognize the thoughts, and stories we are making up in the moment. Then we have to separate our sense of self from our thoughts. In other words, testing assumptions requires an openness to being redirected, which is absent anytime we fixate on being right.
The ability to recognize our own assumptions then test them is paramount to success.
A Stanford University study found that 9 out of 10 conversations miss the mark. That means 90% of the time people walk away from a conversation with a completely different understanding of what was discussed and decided. Misunderstandings are costly, not just financially but they waste our time, energy, and emotional bandwidth.
Take the story above. My husband suggests they go checkout the electrical boxes and in my mind I imagine them at the Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station. When I don't see them there I start to panic a little, wondering where they are. Guess where they went?
To the electrical boxes of course. It turns out there are four electrical boxes in the parking lot that have all been painted as part of an art in public places project. But since I had never noticed those before I misinterpreted what he said. In my mind, I filled the unknown (these mystery boxes) with a known (EV charging station).
And that is the nature of how assumptions get made. Our brains are story-making machines. When there's an unknown in conversation we fill it in with something that's familiar. Just because we are meaning-making machines doesn't guarantee all our assumptions are right.
The first step in testing our assumptions is to acknowledge that we make them in the first place. Everyone does. No one is exempt from this phenomenon. Once we are able to recognize a thought as an assumption, we can test it. As a result, we leave conversations with a shared understanding that leads us to the right place (the electrical boxes).
Struggling to navigate misunderstandings at home or work? Do you want to deepen your self-awareness? Check out our next Journal Jam and experience a profound shift with just 20 minutes of journaling. More information and registration is available online here.