In one of the first classes I taught, I had a student who was always scowling at me. It would have been really hard to miss that scowl. He sat in the front row and it was a small class in a small room.
He was friendly enough when he entered the class room and when he left for the evening. But invariably at some point during our class discussions he would scrunch up his face and start scowling at me. I had no idea what I was doing to upset him. I spent a great deal of time thinking about it. I can’t say that I changed the content of the course I was teaching because of his scowls. I can’t say that I radically changed how I delivered the course. But I can tell you that I frequently worried about what it was I was doing to upset this man. It definitely chipped away at my confidence.
Silly me, I just ASSUMED because this man was sitting in front of me scowling that it was my problem. Because it was my problem, it must have been something I was doing wrong as a teacher. Because I was a new teacher it must have been that I was not good enough yet and I did not know what I was doing. If this was true, well maybe I did not have any business teaching at all.
Then one day he told me why he was scowling during class. He shared with me that every time we discussed a new project management best practice, he became annoyed because none of the project managers he worked with were following the best practices. Sure he was scowling and he was annoyed, but NOT AT ME.
Look at all the needless trauma I caused myself by making this assumption. This must be why the third agreement in ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz is don’t make assumptions. I made these assumptions about why this student was scowling and then I made those assumptions into the truth. My truth was not the truth at all! I made it worse by thinking it was personal, violating another agreement – don’t take things personally. Boy the crazy squirrels in my head were really having a field day.
Don’t make assumptions. It sounds simple, but it is not. Most of us make assumptions every day. We make assumptions about the driver of the car in front of us, about the people we live with and about the people we work with. By doing this we cause ourselves all kinds of unnecessary trauma and drama. We can work on this by finding our voice. I could have found my voice and asked my student if he was in fact upset and what about class was upsetting him. Instead of assuming what your co-workers are thinking, you could ask them. Instead of assuming that your partner is in a bad mood so you better just leave them alone, you could ask them. Instead of assuming your partner knows what you want, you could just tell them.
Assumptions are an illness and communication is the cure.