Shawna left the meeting feeling like her hiring decision had been all wrong. Why couldn’t Hector manage this project on his own? When Shawna was in his role, she was able to make decisions and move forward with little direction from the boss. Maybe it was time to consider moving Hector into a job that fit his apparent abilities.

We all make assumptions, even if we think we don’t. We assume that the people around us have (or should have) the same knowledge, experiences, understanding, beliefs and feelings as ourselves. When we communicate, how often do we check our assumptions? We rarely do…until our differences become apparent, and then it’s often too late to repair the damage. What types of assumptions might you be making, and how can you avoid them?

My direct reports and I have the same knowledge or understanding of business realities. This assumption can easily be validated by having regular discussions with your team about the context and reality your organization faces, including the “big picture.” You may be surprised to know that they either don’t know as much as you think or need help in understanding the implications for their work. You need to actively engage to help them comprehend how what they do fits into the bigger scheme. Redouble your efforts to communicate as much information as you can. This will enable them to do their jobs now and anticipate future change.

I understand how my direct reports feel about their work. Most bosses only see part of the reality for their people, but rarely the whole unvarnished truth. Sometimes the issues are transient and don’t require your input. Other times, an employee may not want to share the full measure of his/her frustration for fear of being seen as negative. While you may not be in tune with the day-to-day angst, stay connected with your people so that you don’t miss a critical issue that could impact the team’s performance.

My direct reports know when I’m just joking around. Flippant, sarcastic and humorous remarks may seem innocuous to you. Your team may be interpreting these comments very differently – searching for hidden meanings, taking “digs” to heart or otherwise misconstruing your intent. Save yourself the grief and loss of productivity by minimizing your attempts at humor. Instead, state your intended messages very clearly.

My direct reports and I approach a task in the same way. One of the most dangerous assumptions is that your people (must) do their jobs in the same way you would. Even if you recently held a position, you may find that your successor organizes the work differently, uses his/her distinctive skills and draws upon completely unique life experiences. Keep your focus on the results you need and allow people to achieve them in their own best way.

You may think that you are assumption-free. But how many times have you thought, Everyone knows that…. or When I was in your role… or How can she possibly do it that way? Replace those thoughts with communication that clarifies, such as Tell me more about that or Give me an example or Help me understand.

One of the most powerful attributes of any team is its diversity of experience, skill and knowledge. Recognizing that you filter reality through your own lens, take time to first understand what you may take for granted. Then be diligent in seeking to better understand your team by asking open-ended questions and honoring their unique perspectives. When you do that, you enrich your own view of the world and become a more well-rounded leader. Avoiding dangerous assumptions also means a more engaged team, better results and maximum impact. Not a bad set of outcomes, we assume!

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