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Assumptions on the dangerous path to false expectations

My dog is barking at the back door of my house. I get up to let the dog in the house. My inference was based on the assumption (my prior experience) that my dog only barks at the back door when he wants to be let into the house. People are wired to use their experiences and beliefs to make assumptions. Once the mind makes an assumption, it creates inferences based on the assumption.

Does every bark that comes from my dog while he is outside the back door means that he wants to come into the house? Maybe, but it could mean many things such as: he is thirsty, he wants me to play fetch, he wants to show me something that is in the yard. 

While I may have been right about the dogs needs this time, I’m bound to get it wrong in the future. I get myself into trouble when I start to believe “the dog only barks to be let in” as a fact.  Knowing the difference between a fact and an assumption can be the key to happiness and emotional survival.

Inference is a process that helps the mind conclude that something is true because something else seems to be true.  When a person assumes, they believe something is supposed to be a certain way even though they lack proof. Values are beliefs about what is important in life or how people should behave. When thought processes combine values, inference and assumptions, it can create false expectations. And a false narrative. That’s when we get ourselves into trouble.

For example, I see my friend walking down the street and they don’t say hello. What is my emotional reaction.  Do I automatically assume they are mad or don’t like me? I may even tell myself that as if it’s a fact. But, the reality is that I don’t know why they didn’t say hello. It could be that my friend was in a hurry and did not see me. Many of us have a habit of telling ourselves a story based on our assumptions and then treating it as fact. However, making decisions based on assumption creates a barrier to reality of certain situations and happiness.

Thinking about the many possible explanations, while removing assumptions, can open up a new view to creating realistic expectations. How can you better notice your inferences and evaluate assumptions? Here’s a few tools for checking those assumptions: 

  1. Do a fact check. Take a moment to think about the things that actually happened that you can prove clearly. 
  2. Slow your thoughts down so that you can be present in the situation. This way you can think clearly before responding. 
  3. Keep your head where your feet are at. Just like it sounds, make sure your thoughts are in the here and now. This way the response is from the issue of the moment, not what has happened in the past. 
  4. Communicate with empathy, strength and courage. Asking questions to fact check your assumption will demonstrate your willingness to understand. 

Understanding the reasons behind our assumptions leads to growth. Once you begin to recognize and question your assumptions, the path to realistic expectations can lead to healthier relationships.

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When conflict happens in the workplace or people experience inappropriate or difficult behavior at work, relationships are damaged and productivity often suffers.
 
Workplaces that embrace Restorative Practices have the potential to create a safer, happier and more effective workplace for everyone. Restorative Practices can be used within the workplace both as a preventative measure and to address conflict when it does arise, enabling teams and individuals to work well together.

Restorative Practices can be an effective way to resolve workplace conflict. It involves:
  • bringing together all those affected by conflict
  • providing a safe environment for the expression of perspective
  • allowing participants to come to a shared understanding
  • identifying creative ways to deal with conflict
  • providing opportunities to rebuild damaged relationships and strengthen teams 

Restorative approaches can also be used proactively within the workplace to build strong, positive relationships. Staff meetings, for example, can be focused on building relationships and based around a foundation of mutual respect.
 
To discuss opportunities to bring this training to your workplace or to customize this training to your organizations needs, please contact Jessica Sherwood at Jessica.Sherwood@conflictcenter.org or call 303.865.5624.
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