I have spent a fair amount of time at airports recently and had the luxury of observing interactions between different people. Perhaps it’s because travellers are tired and anxious that I observed several interactions fraught with misunderstanding.
I believe that misunderstanding occurs frequently in our personal and working lives. We make assumptions based on our thoughts and these assumptions are a real threat to our relationships
We regularly make assumptions about situations, others and ourselves. How we perceive things is unique to each one of us.
When we make an assumption we make a judgment based on our own personal experiences and interpretations.
Judgments trigger emotions like frustration, anger or hurt and block the flow of communication. Each party becomes defensive, either reinforcing their argument or resentfully retreating.
Both parties unconsciously bring this negative experience to their next interaction confirming the outcome. A negative pattern is established which threatens their future conversations.
So if making assumptions occurs unconsciously, how do we avoid having damaging exchanges.
Be aware of your default response. Knowing how you automatically react to a given situation or person enables you to choose a different behaviour.
Ask questions for better understanding. We don’t know what is inside someone else’s head but we can ask them. Ask them to describe what happened and how they feel.
Listen thoughtfully. Show genuinely interest and reserve your judgment. Focus on what the other person is saying and let go of your own thoughts. This gets easier with practice and is well worth the effort.
Practice flexibility, put yourself in their shoes and look at the situation through their eyes. You may be surprised to discover they are not necessarily wrong, they just seeing things differently.
What assumptions do you have that may be damaging a relationship at work? We would love to hear from you.
Jenny Johnson, CDI London Coach