Challenging Assumptions?

Challenging Assumptions with Leadership Trust.


Challenging Assumptions – This is a topical blog post for us, as this has been a conversation we have been having recently at Leadership Trust.

One of our own values as an organisation is to challenge assumptions. As individuals we found that although there was some alignment, we also had differing ideas on what this value meant; how it translated into behaviours, leading to a very interesting and productive team conversation.

What are assumptions?

Assumptions are statements we believe to be true. The most classic assumption is to think that our colleagues have taken a particular action. “I assumed that invoice had been sent out because I emailed the information to you”. Does that ring any bells?

It is important that we don’t hold assumptions in a negative light. Our brains are wired to work from assumptions, but they’re what enable us to have reasoning. Assumptions can be perfectly justified, but the caution we need to exercise is around the fact that assumptions exist, and therefore should always be identified, acknowledged and verified.

For example, a company did not raise the price of their key product based on the assumption that the clients would refuse to follow a price hike. The assumption was verified through a couple of focus groups, and the information uncovered was that in fact, the clients would have been willing to pay on average 3.2 times the current price and that there was growing suspicion around the quality of the product because it was so cheap compared to the rest of the market.

Assumptions can also be linked to more personal and inner beliefs, which can only be uncovered through personal development. For example, people making assumptions that they will never be good enough to deserve a promotion, and therefore not even inquiring about it, or even worse, actively spreading the word they do not want a promotion.

What influences people’s assumptions?

There are probably different answers based on who you ask, or even when you ask. Some would say it’s influenced by upbringing, with many assumptions being taught to us through the actions of our families and peers from infanthood onwards.

Assumptions are possibly even a good link to unconscious bias.

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.”

Think about it, sometimes there are biases such as:

  • The pilot of the plane is a man
  • The nurse is a woman

There are many unconscious biases that we might have – these are forms of assumptions. The environmental and social contexts that we find ourselves in can have a huge weight on the beliefs that we have.

What issues can assumptions cause?

Assumptions can lead to huge misunderstandings. The hardest part with assumptions is to be able to identify what is verified information and what is an assumption. Besides individual fact-finding, challenging assumptions will always require a degree of interaction with others, which may require some solid EQ and communication skills.

Assumptions can also be the root of conflict… Our opposing views define us, our position in the conversation and/or relationship – how can we start to align with each other and our behaviours when our view of the world or the situation seems so different?

Assumptions can include some of these limiting beliefs:

  • If my view is right, theirs must be wrong,
  • So how come they’re so wrong?
  • Therefore they must be stupid.

In order for teams to work collectively, with innovative thinking to be at the forefront, each team member needs to be able to bring their authentic self to work without the fear of judgement or even prejudice.

The best ideas are often formed when a number of employees in a team come together, all of different backgrounds and experiences – so why not encourage it?

But also when it comes to challenging these assumptions, communication skills can be vital.  Taking the time to recognise when you are making an assumption, why you are making it, and what impact your assumptions, are making or have the potential to make in the future. Maybe even having the confidence to reach out to those around you to realise the impact that your assumptions have made, and what you can do to challenge those beliefs in the future.

How can Leadership Trust help?

Our Coaching Skills for Leaders programme is an opportunity to sit in a safe space to explore how assumptions can be formed, providing you with feedback that may shatter some of your existing assumptions, and the tools enabling you to learn how to identify and minimise your ‘interference’:  the stuff that gets in the way whether it’s people or things, real or perceived. You will be able to reflect on your experiences and develop the skills to be able to better hold space for conversations both in your professional and personal life.

To learn to let go of the “need to know best about everything all of the time” and to be more accepting of other’s views. As well as entering real dialogue, to resolve the conflict along with opening the mind through purposeful conversation.

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