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Assumptions and conversation

August 15, 2006

There is an old saying about what happens when one assumes.

Often, we assume intent and meaning in what other people say or have said, and we have emotional reactions based upon our interpretation of what they meant. We then respond, adding our own layer of interpretation and position.  The other person responds in kind and the cycle repeats.  

If a conversation hasn’t concluded, and issues and feelings are outstanding, we may continue imaginary conversations in our head, and have more emotional reactions to our stated position and what the other person “said” during this imagined conversation.  This can play out to the point that when we actually do see the other person again, we greet and react to them with a certain predisposition, and apply either a positive or negative filter to what they then actually do or say.  We should guard ourselves against these occurrences, live in the present, and ask clarifying questions before jumping to conclusions about the other person’s true intent or motive.

We may also do well to be clear on what we really wish to achieve through conversation, and separate out our true objective from tactics which arise during conversation.  It is easy to get sidetracked, to focus on being right when there are oposing points of view, rather than working in partnership with the other person to arrive at a point of mutual understanding.   From common understanding, the desired outcome is much easier to achieve.

We should try to keep this in mind, and practice asking qualifying questions, holding our reactions until we confirm the intent of another’s communication.  With practice, we may find we are better able to resolve troublesome matters more easily, and lead a more productive life.  While I know these things, I do not practice them consistently and my results certainly do vary.

I found that the book ‘crucial conversations’ does a great job in explaining this situation, and provides some very good tools and excercises to help in this area.

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