The danger of Assumptions

13 June 2019 | Less than a minute to read

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The danger of Assumptions

13 June 2019 | Less than a minute to read

< Back to blogs

My son recently tried out for a sports performance programme. In the car on the way home from the trial I was talking about the information the parents had been given about the programme. I chatted to my son really excitedly about all the benefits, what a great programme it was, how it would be great if he got in but the main thing was he had tried his best whatever the result. My son’s response was ‘thanks for the lecture mum’ I realised that my pep talk despite in my eyes being positive had done nothing to engage or encourage him, that I had been talking ‘at’ him without listening and asking his thoughts.

At Leaders it is easy to make the assumption that what is required of us is to give our opinion, advice and that this will help others when in reality it does very little to help their thinking or motivate them to take action.

It is a misconception that as a leader you should have the answers. And that this is even desirable. Sometimes we can feel self-conscious that we don’t know the right answer, solution, comment, that we are going to be found out that we are not as capable as what people think. But is this really what we are looking for from our leaders?

Assuming that we know what is the right information for someone else is arrogant and cuts us off from really listening and understanding where other are at.

It is far more influential to listen, question, clarify and help others in their thinking. The best ‘answer’ often is the right question. Ironically this not something we learn from gaining more capability is it actually a question of leadership confidence.

A recent client of mine talked to me about being nervous talking to a senior staff member feeling that she needed to know the answers to his questions, making the assumption that this was actually what he was looking for. We discussed reframing her role as asking the right questions to help him with his thinking. He recently gave her feedback that he has found her guidance and support incredibly useful over the last few weeks.  Powerful stuff!

Then next time that you feel the urge to give advice or your opinion have a think about whether it’s the best thing to do. Will it engage and motivate? What would happen if you just shut up and listened instead.

Rather than make assumptions:

Slow down

Slowing down and being present allows to you notice and set aside your agenda. While we are rushing around in our own worlds it is very difficult to be curious and present for others.



Try really listening without formulating a response or solving the problem for others. What is your assumption about what they are saying? How can you clarify your understanding by asking them questions and reflecting back what you have heard. Such as: I hear that your perspective is….. What do you need from me? What is your main challenge in this situation. Etc.


Ask questions to help others with their thinking

Your job as a leader is not to know all the answers. It is far more powerful to ask the right questions that help to clarify yours and the other person’s thinking. Asking questions like: How have you tackled this situation before, What is your gut feeling? What insights can you take from this? etc.