My Experience with The Ass*u*me Trap

This first time I remember what it was like to assume something that created discomfort for me (because of my error) and for someone else, I was around twenty years old. I was at an outdoor gathering in the park and encountered friends I hadn’t seen for a while. They were happily married and full of smiles. While he looked no different, she was carrying quite a bit of extra weight in her midsection since the last time I had seen her. Can you guess what I assumed in this scenario? Married, happy and full of smiles and a growing midsection? In our small talk together, I asked when the baby was due. She looked me in the eye and said she wasn’t pregnant – only gained weight. Uh, oh…AWKWARD!

I learned in that moment the meaning of assume – it can make an ‘Ass out of U and Me’. We were both mortified by my assumption. I still feel embarrassed over that – perhaps to remind me from time to time on what assuming can lead to. To this day, I will never ask if someone is pregnant or when the baby is due. That has to come from the person – no more assumptions. I wish I could say I have never made an assumption ever again. That would be WRONG…

I still find times where I ‘assume’ something that may or may not be true. And in the assumption, I really can make an ass of me. And if an assumption about someone is verbalized to that someone, I feel the burn so much more, as does the other person. I’ve worked hard at trying not to assume, but occasionally, I can still catch myself falling into my Ass*U*Me trap that I set for myself. And it rarely works to my benefit regardless of the situation or person I am busy making assumptions about. I’ve had great coach trainers and lots of practice that has helped me keep assumptions out of coaching sessions, but in my personal life I’ve not been as perfect at keeping them out of my interactions with others.

Applying The Ass*u*me Trap in Professional Coaching

Recently this phenomenon of assuming has been cropping up with a few clients that I coach. I thought I’d muse on the topic a bit. I think we all assume things from time to time, and I still think assuming doesn’t usually serve anyone well. Let me give you a couple of examples.

A client loses their job. The hunt for their next new job has been unsuccessful. The client fears their former employer is sharing stories with potential employers and is keeping the client from landing any job. The coach challenges the client by asking, “Is this true?” and “How will you know?”  The best way to know is to go to the person directly that you are making assumptions about and inquire.

This takes a level of courage from the one making the assumption to ask for clarification from someone else, not to mention tact, but it is the best way to shining a light on that dark unknown. We are better served to really dig in, face our fears and learn, in this case, from the potential employer why the client did not get the job.

The client was able to do this and could identify what the real fears were about employment. Turns out the unsuccessful attempts to land a job boiled down to residual fear and some anger about the loss of the job the client once had. Once the client worked through all of that, they got the job they desired. This is a good example as to how Ass*U*Me can be resolved.

Seek First to Understand

Steven Covey wrote about Habit #5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. That habit and other great ones can be found in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. This is a great approach in avoiding the ‘assume’ trap and can spare one embarrassing moments. It moves one from making a judgment to acting in curiosity about what is really going on, rather than making assumptions. When working with my coaching clients, this habit keeps me from making assumptions about my clients or their situations. When we can really understand what might be influencing the current situation (or prevents the desired situation), only then can a good course of action be found and put into action. I have seen how it can be a wonderful key to unlocked doors that are stuck with the gooeyness of assumption.

Thoughts to Ponder

Where in your life might you have felt some frustration? Felt being stuck? What are the stories you might be telling yourself when you consciously or unconsciously assume what is at play in the stuck position one feels they are in. We can start to move forward once we look deep within ourselves and become strong in our curiosity about ourselves, others and/or the situation to see what really is true. It takes patience, strength and courage to stare directly into our assumptions and do the exploration of finding the ‘real’ story behind things.

Hopefully you’ll find this brief article helpful and you can laugh a little at Maureen’s rude awakening with assumptions of someone’s non-pregnancy. I hope you can look at yourself with a bit of a smile for those times that you might have assumed something only to have it proven perhaps uncomfortably wrong. If your doorway seems stuck by the gooeyness of “Ass*U*Me”, try asking yourself if your assumptions are “really true?” Find what really is true and from there you’ll be able to find the right key to open the door you are ready to walk through.

“Your assumptions are windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Isaac Asimov

Maureen Purcell
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