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It's Our Turn: Making assumptions leads to unnecessary drama

After listening to motivational speaker and coach John O’Leary speak at Impact Alexandria last October, I signed up for his motivational e-mails. In a recent e-mail, he stated the following:

“The assumptions we project onto others speak much louder about who we are than those we pretend to know.”

O’Leary went on to tell a story about an unappealing, disheveled woman who boarded the airplane he was on. Based on her appearance (and her smell), O’Leary hoped she wouldn’t sit next to him.

But she did. And the conversation between the two soon made O’Leary realize that he had made assumptions about the woman that were incorrect – and unfair. She ended up being a remarkable woman with an amazing story who had great reasons for being disheveled. At the end of the trip, he felt lucky to have met her and have those hours of conversation.

In his message, O’Leary referenced a book that I read a few years ago called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

The third agreement of the four agreements that Ruiz tells us we should make with ourselves is “Don’t Make Assumptions.”

The author explained that people tend to make assumptions about everything. We assume we know what someone else is thinking, we assume someone else knows what we are thinking, we assume we know why someone did what they did, etc.

The problems arise when we forget that these assumptions are usually not truth, but in our mind, they become truth. We then react, and needless drama unfolds.

“We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing,” Ruiz writes.

Yep. Been there and done that. I’ve incorrectly assumed, and I’ve been on the receiving end of incorrect assumptions.

In today’s world of texting, e-mailing and constant non-face-to-face communicating, assuming is easier than ever.

We assume someone is angry with us because of the “tone” of their text.

We assume someone is giving us the cold shoulder because of the wording used in an e-mail.

We assume someone didn’t show up at our event because they weren’t supportive of us.

We assume that a certain comment was meant as a personal dig.

We assume that the person never “chipping in” is just a cheapskate.

The vast majority of the time our assumptions are wrong.

Texts and e-mails don’t relay a person’s thoughts and feelings like their body language, facial expressions and tone of voice do.

That person who skipped out on our special event may have had a personal emergency that they weren’t comfortable talking about.

The person who never chips in may be barely making ends meet and is too embarrassed to admit it.

After reading The Four Agreements, I tried to change the way I looked at things. If someone did or said something I didn’t like, I let a bunch of possible scenarios play through my mind – perhaps their pet died; maybe they just found out a friend has cancer; maybe they got into a fight that morning with their spouse; maybe their teenager is causing them excessive stress and worry; maybe they are worried their job is going to be eliminated.

Once you start looking past your first “assumption” and realize that there are so many possibilities about why a person says or does something, it is much easier to be understanding and less assuming.

Of course, as with all other self-improvement lessons, it’s a constant battle to maintain the positive change, and I’ll admit I’ve fallen back into the “assumption trap” at times. So O’Leary’s e-mail was a great reminder.

In his book, Ruiz said, “The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don’t understand, ask.”

Sounds simple, yet it’s hard to drop the old habits of assumption.

But like all the other good things in life, it’s worth the effort.

• • •

“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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