Assumptions. Does the adage ring true?

Curium | 13 Feb 2019 | News | General

Senior Consultant Rob McCracken considers assumptions and when you assume, do you really make an “ass of u and me”.

Attributed to Oscar Wilde, this phrase has become common currency. However, while I respect Mr Wilde for his literary works, I have to disagree.

Picture the scene… it’s my sister’s birthday weekend. Sarah (my wife) and I are starting our five-hour journey to Scotland to celebrate with her. Sarah has bought and wrapped Elaine’s present; she’s also packed the bag for our weekend stay. I assume she has also packed the present.

At the same time, Sarah has assumed that as the present is breakable and, as it is for my sister, that I have picked up the present when we left the house.

Fast forward two hours and we’ve just stopped off at Scotch Corner to grab a bite to eat. While Sarah is grabbing her bag from the back seat, where she assumes I will have placed the present, she cautiously asks “you did pick up Elaine’s present…?”

Well, I’ll stop the story there as you get the idea. In that instance our assumptions did make an ass out of Sarah and me.

However, it could so easily have been avoided, hence my disagreement with Mr Wilde.

The simplest way to avoid making a fool of yourself when making assumptions is to ask!

A five second question would have either validated or invalided the assumptions we were both making.

While this personal story is simplistic with a simple yes / no answer as a result, would such a simple approach apply in our working lives where the answers are often not so clear? I don’t believe so.

Experience in delivering projects has shown me that making assumptions can strike fear into team members and stakeholders when they realise that the answer isn’t clear. This is with good reason, as invalid assumptions can often be the Achilles’ heel of a project.

However, this fear and uncertainty shouldn’t lead to a change in approach… only a different outcome.

Rather than our simple recourse to “ass-out-of-you-and-me-itis” resulting in a clear yes / no answer, you will have created a shared understanding of the assumptions you are making and whether they are ‘reasonable’.

The creation of shared understanding can be as narrow or wide as you think is necessary. A simple litmus test being: what is the impact and risk of your assumption being wrong? The bigger the impact and risk, the wider to share.

As you’d expect from a change and project management professional, I’d advocate writing these assumptions into your RAID log. However, if you aren’t delivering a project, so long as you’ve written and shared them you should have reduced the chance of ass-making.

So the next time you’re about to make an assumption, big or small, remember: just ask.

It might just save making an ass out of you and me!

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