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Assumptions – Are They Necessary?

On a recent post on the Conflict Coaching Guild on LinkedIn I posed the following question:

“Generally-speaking, a common reaction – when we are provoked by something another person says or does (or doesn’t say or do) – is to make assumptions about their motive, character, etc.
This tendency often heightens in intensity and malevolence if the perceived offense is repeated and our emotional reaction increases.
However, why do you suppose we do not check out our interpretations in the first place before we impute negative meaning?”

The answers from members of the Guild have been thoughtful and helpful. They have provided lots of opportunity to further contemplate this common phenomenon when we sometimes make negative assumptions about other people with little to no foundation.

So, why do we attribute negative motives, character, etc. in the first place? Maybe it is due to preconceived notions and expectations. Or, previous experiences with this person or others who demonstrate the same or similar behaviours. Whether we are generally pessimistic, cynical, untrusting, or negative are other variables that may come into play. I wonder too, that at times it may be our own thoughts and feelings that we project onto others.

The list of possibilities does not stop there and yet, I ask – is it really necessary to make assumptions about others’ actions, words, etc.? Is it a form of self-preservation? Is it a matter of thinking the worse – hoping we will be pleasantly surprised? Or, is it mean-spirited – a cheap shot at someone we do not like?

This week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) blog invites you to consider a negative assumption or assumptions you are making about another person who said or did something that offends you – as you respond to the following questions.

  • What is (are) the assumption(s) you are making about the other person?
  • What did she or he do or say (or not do or say) that resulted in this assumption (these assumptions)?
  • Selecting one of those assumptions (or the only one you named, if applicable), for what reasons are you attributing that particular trait, motive, etc.? What do you think the other person’s intent was (if you have not just answered that in the previous question)?
  • On what do you base your answers to the above questions?
  • What other reasons may there be for the other person’s words or actions that she or he, or friends may suggest?
  • When you do or say the same sorts of things (if you do), for what reasons do you do so?
  • What if you are incorrect in your assumption(s), what would that mean for you? What would it mean for the other person?
  • What is necessary about making assumptions about the other person’s actions, words, etc.? What is not necessary?
  • What stops you from asking the other person to explain the offending actions, words, etc.?
  • How do your assumptions help you? How do they not help you?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

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