Making assumptions and judgments are two things we do as individuals that can cause misunderstandings and erode trust in the workplace.

An assumption is when I, without checking it out first with the other person, create a story in my head as to what that person intended to say or do. For instance, you see your colleague a few desks down surfing the internet and you know you and she are working under a tight deadline to deliver a project on time. You immediately assume that that person is slacking off, and you feel yourself getting resentful. That is making an assumption. All you know is what you saw. You do not know why that individual is doing what she is doing – you make a conclusion about it without understanding the whole situation.

A judgment goes one step further. A judgment is not only making an assumption but then forming an opinion about the intention and moral correctness about the story you have about what you saw. In the above internet surfing example, the assumption is that the person isn’t working on the project and is slacking off; a judgment would be to then say, “She’s going to screw this up for everyone. If she doesn’t meet her deadline, she’s going to make me miss mine.”

Does this sound familiar? We assume and judge all the time whether we are conscious of it or not. Sometimes our assumptions are correct, but most of the time they are not. We spend an awful amount of energy and time on these stories and our reactions to them when we don’t really need to.  

We can avoid making assumptions and judgments by: 

First, suspending assumptions and judgments – catch yourself doing it!  Notice when you start to assign intent to what someone has said or done.  Notice when you are judging another and creating a story in your head about something that was said or done.

Second, when you notice you are jumping to a conclusion, making an assumption or judgment, PAUSE, and ask yourself, “I wonder what this is about?” Depersonalize it – that means don’t immediately take it personally. Whatever just happened may have nothing to do with you.  As Steven Covey says in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Third, be curious about finding out what is going on for this individual. You might say, “Hey, I need to check something out with you.”

Fourth, ask for clarification. If there was something said that you didn’t understand, ask for more explanation. The words I use may or may not mean the same thing to you as they do to me. For instance, “Get it done” could mean do it now or by the end of the day or whenever you can.  Always ask for clarification even if you think you know what the other person means.  When the requester hears their request repeated back or is asked to clarify the message, they have the opportunity to be sure you, as the receiver, have heard the information they intended and/or to give you additional details that were not originally provided. 

Lastly, be willing to openly explore your assumptions, judgments, and reactions with each other.  Be willing to say, “Wow, I really thought you were asking me to ….” or “I’m so glad I asked you, I thought you meant …”, or “when you said [x], I felt …. but now that we have talked about it, I understand what you meant.” Sometimes, a little humility, humor, and honesty goes a long way!

At the end of the day, we all want to get our jobs done, have productive interactions with those we work with, and feel good about what we do. Avoiding making assumptions and judgments about others and their intentions, and engaging in direct, honest dialogue with one another is a really good start!

You’ll find more tips about how to get along in the workplace and more in our book, Transformational Tips: Mastering the Moments

And if you find you need a sounding board or a sanity check on a specific situation, we are here to help

Theresa Gale