How Often Are You a Cookie Thief?
Your case presentation was outstanding and you felt confident about acceptance, but the patient told the coordinator he needs to “think about it”. Or perhaps you hired an employee whose resume indicated previous dental experience, only to find out she had insufficient know-how about running the front desk. All of us have hastily and mistakenly passed judgment of a situation or a person. We can be absolutely convinced of something and then find out later that we were wrong. How often do you make assumptions without having all the facts?
Every day you make a series of assumptions. Many of them are done unconsciously. When you reached for your alarm clock this morning, you assumed it would be there. It was. While getting ready for your day, you assumed many things as part of your morning routine. Nothing wrong with that. We’re programmed to make assumptions. An assumption is something we take for granted or presuppose. Usually it is something we previously learned and don’t question. It’s part of our system of beliefs or schemas, our internal representations of the way the world works. We assume our beliefs to be true and use them to interpret the world about us.
Our brains love assumptions and we get very comfortable with assumptions. A little too comfortable. Assumptions mean less work. They are more efficient use of brain power. We tread along these same cozy neural pathways again and again and again until they are well worn and grooved. When similar situations arise, our brains default to this groove and its associative memories, information, and assumptions.
At its core, our schema is that everyone sees life the way we do. But your thinking habits also can lead you astray. We make false predictions about others, from their motivations to their emotions. In other words, we mind-read. And those mental short cuts are often wrong. We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing. Beliefs that are accompanied with high emotionality create the greatest distortions. Drama easily overshadows logic. And when we experience things on a visceral level, our thinking is much more likely to appear factual to us.
Because we regard our beliefs as truths, we seek information to confirm our expectations, and we ignore things that don’t fit. This is one of the reasons that many of us get stuck and can’t really grow or improve.
I recently came across a great YouTube clip that illustrates the danger of assumptions. It’s called The Cookie Thief. Based on a wonderful poem by Valerie Cox, the video is a fun but strikingly accurate example of bad assumptions. The ending might surprise you. I strongly recommend that you make time to watch it with your employees. Put it on the next staff meeting agenda and use it as a springboard to discussion. My prediction…ok, my assumption…is that you have a whole team of ‘cookie thieves’. Once you identify the culprits, make a commitment to one another that you will all work on purging yourselves of the tendency to make bad assumptions.
It starts with humility…the admission that you don’t know everything. No one does. No matter how ‘real’ a situation may look, you never know what truths you might find out later. Make a commitment to challenge your thinking at least once each day. This requires you to keep an open mind.
Practice active listening. There is much to learn by being quiet and really paying attention to what others have to say. When people share their ideas, beliefs, and perspectives, avoid looking for ways to criticize them or prove them wrong. It's only when you know that you don't know that you're in a position to learn.
Assume positive intention from others. What you think may be quite different from reality. Try to see other sides of the story rather than focusing on what you "think" you know. Realize that not everyone thinks as you do. Seek out the facts before you react.
Stop personalizing. Take a step back to really look at the situation. Breathe. Be curious and ask yourself, “What assumption am I making about this person/situation?” Cultivating awareness about the habit of assumption is the best way to beat it.
Let me know your thoughts on the video. If you do use it as a team activity, send me a summary. In exchange, I’ll email you a copy of one of our Ideas into Action leadership guidebooks.
Wishing all of you clear thinking!
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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