We all know how assume is spelled
Steps to Success
‘Mean Resting Face', often referred to in a slightly more derogatory term (as coined by comedienne Taylor Orci), is an affliction I fear I suffer from. Whether due to permanently squinting in the sunshine, possibly needing glasses or just a combination of stress, parenting and the effects of gravity as I age, I've often caught sight of myself with my brow furrowed, lips in a pout, a virtual scowl on my face that would frighten little children. Not because I'm cross or upset, I'm just not paying attention to what my face is doing. Is ‘grumpy' the look I naturally slip into when I'm not deliberately smiling or engaged in conversation? And what does this say to those who see it? What do they think?
I've often fallen prey to seeing someone's face that makes me wonder ‘what is their problem!' A look, gesture or comment I perceive as negative can launch me into terrible worry and self-doubt, wondering what I've done wrong. Alternatively it sends me straight into defensiveness, thinking, ‘same to you, misery guts!' These reactions are, in part, examples of Transference and Projection as discussed last week. They say more about our insecurities than the truth, yet it is amazing how quickly we make assumptions about what things mean and how they relate to us, and start to believe them.
A successful lecturer recently shared this example with me. In her early career, she'd been giving a presentation to a crowd of VIPs she was eager to impress. On the front row sat an older gentleman who, five minutes into her talk, closed his eyes. Was he sleeping? Lost in thought? Couldn't bear to look at her? She couldn't tell. Thoughts of “I'm boring”, “this is going badly”, “what a fool thinking I could do this,” began flooding her mind.
She managed to maintain her composure and finish her talk, despite her discomfort and growing dislike for this ‘rude man who couldn't be bothered to pay attention'. At the end of the session, who should approach her, but this very same inconsiderate fellow and his Assistant. With a big smile he congratulated her on a great job. “Like you even heard it,” she thought. He went on to say, “I'm blind, and it's rare that someone speaks so eloquently and clearly to capture my thoughts so I can see everything they are saying in my mind's eye, like you did. I look forward to working with you.”
We all jump to conclusions and make assumptions. Assumptions are part of our natural filtering system that helps us perceive the world. With so much to learn about our surroundings and interacting with them, to speed this mental process, when we see or experience something, we tend to make assumptions that it is representative of other things like it. For instance, as children when we are first introduced to a few examples of ‘a door' as something that opens and shuts and you go through to get from one place to another, we then assume that things that look or function like that are ‘doors'.
These mental shortcuts may be necessary to our learning, but there are many areas where making assumptions does not serve us.
Especially as we often assume the worst, both of others' actions, and equally that others will assume the worst of us. ‘I wish I hadn't said that, they must think I'm so rude … or mean … or ignorant (fill in your fear here)'. These kinds of thoughts churn us up, and can even cause us to lose sleep and confidence. Are they useful? How much time, energy and productivity is lost reacting to our assumptions of what other people are thinking, doing or feeling?
What would happen if we tried giving people the benefit of the doubt? Or better yet, sought the facts of a situation? It is worth asking these questions to help avoid unnecessary anxiety or negativity resulting from the assumptions we can make:
* What else could their action (words/gesture/look) mean or be caused by? E.g. Did they really ‘blank' me as I walked by, or just not see me, perhaps busy thinking about something else?
* What is the actual evidence that my assumption is correct?
* Have I ever done something similar? Did it always mean the same?
* (When fearing someone else's reaction of us) ask: What would I think if a friend or colleague said or did this to me? Would I assume a negative reaction?
* Is my assumption being driven by fear, anger or self-pity?
* How could assuming the best, benefit here?
* What clarification could I get, and questions can I ask, to understand this situation better?
There is also the other side of assumption making: when we assume that other people know what we are thinking or expecting, what we want or need. We assume they are magically endowed with special ‘mind-reading' skills. This is particularly true of our closer relationships: family, intimate relationships, friends, colleagues etc.
In Couples Coaching, I see many examples of people expecting their partners to know what to do to ‘make them happy'. Unfortunately no matter how long we spend with a person, we can never crawl inside each others' heads and know exactly what they're thinking. We tend to make assumptions of what others will like or dislike (usually based on our own likes and dislikes). When others do things for us, we can even think it is a sign of how well they really ‘know' us, that they ‘get it right'. Which can also mean we end up feeling hurt, dejected and misunderstood when they don't. Is it fair to place that pressure on another person? The only way to ensure that somebody knows what we hope or expect of them, is to actually tell them. And have them confirm that they really understand what we are saying, rather than just ASSUMING they do.
Being clear about our intentions and expectations, being mindful about what we put out into the world, having the courage to ask questions, and opting for a positive view on things … can all help us escape the assumption trap. And next time you see me, or somebody, sporting a disagreeable look, resist the pattern to assume the worst and find offence. Consider the possibility it might be nothing to do with you, ask if you really think it is, and cut them some slack if they've just got a Mean Resting Face!
Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner with Benedict Associates Ltd. Telephone (441) 295-2070 or visit www.juliapittcoaching.com for further information.