You know the saying: don’t judge a book by its cover. But making assumptions is part of everyday life. It’s something you might do without even giving it a second thought. It’s all too easy to take for granted or guess what others are thinking, saying and doing, whether they’re a friend, colleague, relative or acquaintance. In the absence of specific information and details, you might find yourself imagining all kinds of scenarios, concocting stories and arriving at your own conclusions.
In making assumptions, judgements might be made on someone based on how they look, sound and act, or on what car they drive or the sort of job they do. One assumption might be that the new person in the office is unfriendly, when really they’re just shy. Another might be that a loved one will forget your birthday because that’s what they did last time. You might assume that a friend doesn’t want to see you any more, when they’re just incredibly busy right now. The imagination can run riot and lead you to form assumptions about someone, even though you know very little about them.
Runa Magnus – a personal branding expert, best-selling author, creator of The Change Makers and leader of the #NoMoreBoxes movement – believes that most assumptions are made on autopilot. She says: ‘You see another person, or go into a situation, and based on your prior experience – or non-experience – you make assumptions about that person and what is about to happen. It can be a brilliant tool if you’re aware of your behaviours and reactions and are well connected with (and follow) your gut feeling. The problem is, most of us are not aware of our behaviours or reactions. We just judge. We put people into boxes and judge them from that place.’
Indeed, this need to form a judgement about someone – to label and box that person based on what might be little more than ideas, stereotypes, and personal beliefs – is often the result of unconscious behaviour and it can quickly get out of hand. Here’s how to check your judgement and switch from autopilot to awareness.
A moment of self-reflection
Ask yourself these questions:
- When did you last find yourself making an assumption about someone?
- What assumption did you make and why?
- How did this impact you and your relationship with this person?
- Would the situation have been different if you hadn’t made an assumption?
- What will you do differently next time?
How to avoid the dangers of making assumptions:
- Be more mindful of the initial thoughts you have about someone. Ask yourself where these
thoughts are coming from – is it out of insecurity, fear, ignorance, a belief system or sense of inadequacy? If so, step aside and focus on resolving these inner conflicts.
- Keep in mind the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ whenever you feel the temptation to make an assumption about someone based on how they look.
- Realise that things are not always as they appear – even more so when you have no knowledge of a person or situation.
- Let go of the need to place people in boxes and attach labels to them. Even if someone appears to fit a particular stereotype, realise that it’s unfair to judge.
- Remind yourself that it’s impossible to truly know someone you haven’t yet met or had time to get to know properly. Even when you think you know someone extremely well, you can still make wrong or misguided assumptions. Be humble and accept that conclusions can be wrong.
- Do some fact-checking – ask questions rather than make up the answers.
- Be aware that subconsciously you will look for evidence to support your assumptions. It’s natural to want to join the dots and create a bigger picture, but recognise that your ideas are not facts.
- Keep your assumptions to yourself. Talking about other people and situations creates arguments, conflict, judgements and discrimination.
Words: Carol Anne Strange
This article was originally published under the title ‘Awareness or autopilot?’ in Issue 16 – By the light of the Moon