Imagine this. You go into a business meeting and the person running the meeting says, “OK. We’re going to play a game called assumptions. Each of you will stand up while the rest of us write down the assumptions we have about you. You can’t say a word.”
You might walk out, right?
Yet that’s exactly what happened last fall on the first day of my stand up comedy class. And no one left. Were we horrified? Absolutely. My heart raced. I mean who likes to be judged? But we all went through with it.
Making Assumptions About Others
The teacher handed us a small stack of 3×5 index cards and told us to write down anything that came up about the person standing on the stage. Things like:
- The type of home they live in
- Where they might live
- The type of music they might listen to
- Words used to describe their personality
- What they do for work
- Etc, etc, etc.
After a few minutes of jotting down assumptions we shared what we wrote. Sometimes the assumptions were right. And sometimes they weren’t. In my case, folks assumed that I…
- Listen to Fleetwood Mac (Incorrect assumption.)
- Have 2 kids (Incorrect assumption. I have 2 cats.)
- Practice yoga (Correct assumption.)
- Am eccentric (Wasn’t sure what to think about this one. Guess I should have left my red cowboy boots at home that night.)
Write Your Own Story
Once we shared our assumptions, the teacher explained why she made us do that. Here’s what she said. When comics get on stage audiences immediately make assumptions based on what they see. But when the comedian has an idea of what people might think, s/he can turn the assumption into a joke, clear the mind of the audience and make an immediate connection.
Curious about this concept, I went home after class and searched YouTube for a variety of comedians. And I noticed that nearly every single routine started with a joke based on an assumption. Things like weight, baldness, being a women, being old, visible tattoos, etc.
They made a joke about the assumption before the audience could. And by getting it out in the open up front, the everyone could relax and enjoy the show.
Assumptions in Business
Of course, this made me think about all of the assumptions we might make in business. Below are a few I often hear from clients and colleagues:
Why do you like working with technical folks? They’re not very personable.
I don’t want to bother people with my ideas. I’m sure they’ve heard them before.
Why would someone hire me? I have no experience.
The quiet people in the room have nothing to contribute.
I don’t have the charisma that others have so my presentations aren’t as highly regarded.
What assumptions fill your world?
The Cost of Making Assumptions
Making assumptions about others – or worrying about what people think about you – can lead to missed opportunities like building a new relationship, strengthening a team, getting a new client, hiring or retaining the right employee, getting a promotion, or starting a business.
Here’s an example. As a member of Toastmasters (public speaking and leadership organization), I know that some clubs struggle with membership. Why? Because not everyone is comfortable asking people to join. Yet, there is an assumption that if you enjoy your experience, you’ll happily talk about it and invite others to join. And that is an incorrect assumption.
As a result, people who could really use the support of a group like Toastmasters may never join and benefit.
And another example. An executive I know assumed that if people didn’t contribute ideas in a meeting, they must not have anything to share. So, she dismissed them when they emailed her with their thoughts the next day. Another incorrect assumption. Some people need time to process information and formulate thoughts. So, she may have been missing out on incredible ideas because of her assumption.
So what’s the bottom line?
Well, if you think people are making assumptions about YOU get them out there so you can write your own story. Own who you are, eccentricities and all.
And if you find yourself making assumptions about others, check-in. Can you get curious about people instead?
What you see is not always what you get. Dig deeper. You’ll open up to new ideas, new connections and new opportunities. And you may even learn something about yourself along the way.
Your Turn to Talk to Me
- What assumptions do people make about you?
- How do you clear the air and stay focused?
- Have you ever been called eccentric?
Your Voice Matters. Keep Shining.
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About the blog
Insights & inspiration to make human interactions like speaking, networking, facilitating less awkward & boring and more natural & engaging.
Topics include presence, getting your message across, relationship building, staying poised under pressure, running a meeting, dealing with burnout and more.
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