By: Don Tyler

It is always best to use facts when they are available, but sometimes we don’t have all the facts we need to make a decision. We may have to make the decision quickly and do our best with the information available at the time, but too often people seem to prefer making assumptions rather than doing the work of determining the facts. Perhaps they perceive that their gut instinct is adequate. They may even prefer their assumptions over the facts because it makes the job easier or allows them to do it the way they want.

Additionally, making assumptions can sometimes stem from a lack of, or an inability to, communicate effectively with the person who has the information we need. Maybe we don’t like them, or we feel that they are too busy, or we don’t like the answer they are probably going to give us. For one reason or another, the person making assumptions prefers their assumptions over the potential facts.

The real problem is in how people usually make assumptions. Our assumptions are based on our current thinking and past experiences. If we make an assumption as to why a person did something a certain way, it will often depend on whether or not we like that person’s previous decisions, or if we generally like that person or not. If we like their previous decisions or the person, we will assume that their motives would be consistent with our motives. If we don’t like them or their previous decisions, we will assume that their thinking is in error and they will make a poor decision.

Likewise, if communication is poor or relationships are strained in the workplace we might avoid speaking to the person and automatically make assumptions rather than even consider talking to them to get the facts they may hold. This causes a cascading series of misinterpretations, errors in judgment, poor decisions and bad results. What’s worse, in many of these cases that I have experienced, each of these people blame the other for not communicating and the results that ensued. Frustrations, divisions and hurt feelings are exacerbated to the breaking point and long-term damage can be done to the relationship.

I have seen situations where entire work groups based most of their decisions and actions on assumption because communication was so poor that everyone gave up trying. They didn’t talk, which reduced their overall communication skills, basic levels of understanding and quality of work. The employees who work around these individuals feel that this is normal behavior and mimic the same processes. They eventually become fully disengaged as employees and just meander through their day hoping to avoid any contact or interaction.

Here are some behaviors that may indicate that assumptions are being used instead of facts:

• Comments about important discussions often begin with the words, “I bet…” or “Let’s assume…” or “My gut tells me…”

• Facts are available, but no one is interested in using them to make the decision.

• Facts or data that are being used are regularly discounted and replaced with gut instinct.

• An individual keeps going back to their preferred solution, even though very applicable facts have been presented.

• An individual hasn’t listened closely to the facts presented in a discussion and fills in the blanks with comments or solutions that are in line with their usual preferences.

There are times where all that is left is your gut instinct. If that is the actual situation, use your gut. But if there are facts available, always start with them and avoid the trap of the easy assumption that matches our personal preferences, but doesn’t seek the best solution. For assistance with these and other employee management issues, or to invite Don to speak about any of these topics, contact him at 765-523-3259 or e-mail: don@dontyler.com