Make Requests - Not Assumptions
"All I can do is assume!" blurted out one colleague to another in a burst of frustration and annoyance. Let's call these two clients Heather and Lily. They were working on a project that both were enjoying thoroughly. They were receiving lots of encouragement and affirmation along the way. They were really energized, having fun and looking forward to the roll-out of their project. BUT! But, what?
Heather's moment of exasperation came as a surprise to Lily even though she was the one who had sensed some tension between them. This particular day, Lily had begun their work session by asking Heather if she, too, was experiencing tension. They talked for awhile, each learning something about the other that they did not know or pay much attention to before then. They picked up some clues for how to work together with more ease. Even so, after about twenty minutes, throwing her hands in the air, Heather complained: "I don't know, Lily! All I can do is assume!"
For Lily, Heather's complaint was a key revelation. Without intending to, Heather had provided an "Aha! moment" to spark a conversation about how they were falling into a trap. It's probable that we all have heard that the problem with assumptions is right there in the root word "assume": ass - u - me. Assumptions are a brand of judgment - the kind of judgment that disconnects us from one another.
Assumptions are selective interpretations of fact and experience. Out of no ill-will, both Heather and Lily were making assumptions about each other in the interest of saving time to get the project done. They actually thought they were accommodating each other. It turned out their assumptions were more like foolish guesses. They even felt a bit ridiculous trying to articulate their assumptions.
Long story short - Heather and Lily have agreed to make requests rather than assumptions. They have made a few simple agreements, but perhaps the most important is this: whenever they are in a situation where they are inclined to assume something about the other, they will
each use the
assumption as a cue
to tune into themselves to find out what is "bugging" them. Out of curiosity, rather than judgment, they will get their facts straight first and then talk about what they are needing or caring about - all in a timely manner. They will "seal the deal" with a request for a concrete action that they can agree to implement. Their mantra is:
REQUESTS - YES! ASSUMPTIONS - NO!
This 3:30-minute video on the importance of empathy came my way from about four different activist and faith community sources in the last week. Perhaps you have seen it. I am passing it on here in the spirit of encouraging fearless conversations during this challenging time in which we are living. It would be a fun thing to use in your organization, school or community.
The Importance of Empathy