Dangerous Assumptions and the Power of Discernment

Assumptions can be dangerous. We’re all aware that making assumptions can lead to trouble, but we tend to focus on avoiding them on a grand scale and occasionally lack vigilance when it comes to detail. We might not assume that a new contact will become a profitable client, but we might assume they received the email we sent.

That’s not to say that bad assumptions don’t occur on a big stage. When Disney were building the hotels and services for their Paris location they assumed that visitors to the park would want to stay for the same length of time they did in their other locations. The fact that the park was one third of the size of the others led to many empty hotel rooms.

This is an extreme example, but day-to-day assumptions can prove costly too. We have previously looked at the importance of being liked and how a positive relationship with a client or partner can lead to trust, which is an essential business component. However, this is a process. Confusing being liked with being trusted and assuming that trust exists too early can lead to trouble.

Even if you do develop a trusting working relationship with someone, it is important to be realistic about what this really means. An assumption is a belief held without evidence to support it. If you believe this new relationship could lead to a sale, do you have the evidence that this individual has the influence within their organisation to make that happen?

Even at the conclusion of work, people’s assumptions can cost them. We know how powerful word of mouth recommendations are. If you’ve just completed some work for a happy client who has been thoroughly impressed you might assume they will recommend you to others. You know they are well connected, have many useful contacts and numerous twitter followers, so you assume that several opportunities may spring from this.

It might happen, but there’s no evidenced for this belief. The simple act of asking the satisfied customer if they would mention you can turn the first assumption into truth. The second remains an assumption not a guarantee.

Above all, never assume anything is as simple as it seems. That’s not to say that everyone you encounter will have some ulterior motive, but when you’re dealing with real people you need to be sure you fully understand the situation and remember that there is a good reason for every question, even if it is not obvious.

To return to Disney, the famous, most frequently asked question at their customer service desks is ‘what time is the three o’clock parade?’. A seemingly simple (to the point of stupid) question – you assume you know the answer. However, staff have learnt that the question really being asked is ‘given that the parade draws large crowds, how long before the start of the parade do I need to find a viewing space so that my children can see it?’

Don’t assume you know what question is being asked. Always look a little deeper and always look for the evidence that turns your assumptions into truths.

Posted in: Life Skills

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