Assumptions Can Derail the Best of Plans

The start of 2013 seems to be bringing awareness and learning at a very quick pace for many business owners and executives with whom I have spoken recently. And I have had similar experiences, one of which I’d like to share with you today and how I created greater understanding and opportunity from it.

My situation involved someone with whom I had spoken briefly in the past. Current circumstances brought us into each other’s purview with an opportunity to engage in a joint project. We had known many of the same people and been part of experiences that were the same.

I mention this because I have learned that assumptions can be made about someone based on very little direct experience with them. Therefore when discussions ensue about a joint project, we tend to assume that we know where the joint partners are coming from. Guess what, you may not know as much as you think you do.
Through a wonderful LinkedIn connection I got back in touch with this particular colleague and business owner who I had approached several years ago with the idea of working for him using my skills as a productivity consultant. It was not the right time for either of us due to other priorities, so we dropped discussion; until the LinkedIn opportunity brought us into contact again.

We arranged to talk, and both realized that it might be possible for us to engage in a joint endeavor, bringing my skills in collaboration into his business, which would allow him to get to know me through the yearly strategic meeting that was about to take place. I changed plans for another professional meeting and traveled to participate with the staff in the first phase of planning for the next Strategic move. I also decided that due to the change in his business, my work with Collaborative Leadership and Team Alignment could assist in the development of the leadership team, and in the results that were goals for the next two years.

I made the assumption that we were on the same page and continued to pursue the team opportunity since we had so much in common, from previous experience, professional affiliation and world view. I neglected to create the basis for this particular joint endeavor, to do the initial exploration necessary for us to begin at this time, and to determine the specifics of his situation and how we could move forward together. It resulted in mis-communication and a decision to not move forward because the element of timeliness and exploration had been neglected.

The four Parts of Speech that I have discussed in previous articles, the link for one of these is below, are very important to utilize in this situation, and one area that can be called upon to avoid the situation in which I found myself.

Those Parts of Speech are:

  1. Framing
  2. Illustration
  3. Advocacy
  4. Inquiry

Four Parts of Speech Article

Since effective communication involves the art of listening, I want to emphasize the importance of listening and watching for cues that communication has stopped connecting. Often an agenda focused on advocacy vs. inquiry can be the problem.

The most effective way to create connection is to use inquiry. It is a habit to develop only in terms of seeing how what you are saying is being heard by your audience and any questions or concerns the other person might have. When assumptions are running, and there is a strong agenda to advocate a project and results, one can forget to inquire; to gauge buy-in from team members, and may assume there is alignment when there is none.

This particular situation often occurs at this important time of year when strategic strategy is being rolled out. Often strategic plans are given and assumptions are made about the team engagement in those plans, especially if they are being given vs. discussed prior to implementation.

Sometimes discussion seems unnecessary or counter-productive, yet what happens without the engagement of the implementation team is lack of progress, and not much communication about what is transpiring. Remember that inquiry is just as important as advocacy during your next conversation or meeting, and can prevent unnecessary misunderstanding and delays.

Stay tuned for my upcoming blog series on effective Strategic implementation.

Do you have a question or particular challenge regarding assumptions and communication that you would like to share? Please be sure to leave a comment; I would enjoy hearing from you. – Patricia