Stop Assuming

North American wild donkey

"He's from that political party? Must be an idiot"
"We're getting a millennial? Arghhh. What an entitled bunch"
"Is that him posing with that guy? He must be corrupt too!"

Human beings have the capacity to analyse and make conclusions. It's an integral part of our survival mechanism. We see rustling in the grass; experience has taught us that a tiger is waiting to pounce. We observe, we process, we decide, we do. Run like the wind.

While driving, we see a ball bounce across the road. Without experience, our minds seek a cause. Colourful ball. More likely to belong to a child. The ball doesn't belong on the road. Therefore, it likely wasn't intended to be there. Therefore, a child might be looking for it. Therefore, a child might be following it to catch up to the ball.

There is absolutely no data to suggest that this is true. All of it is conjecture; assumption. Yet, we slam on the brakes because better safe than sorry. After a few seconds, no child comes running. Instead, a small head peeks out from the side, because he too thought, better safe than sorry. Both of you had made assumptions that saved lives.

Strangely, there's an area where assumptions don't do so well; the social realm. In social interactions, we make assumptions to help us navigate our relationships. "Oh, she's wearing blue today. It's her favourite colour, She must be happy today. I can probably ask her for a favour".

We base our decisions based on our experience with individuals we know well. This is how wives can predict their husbands' behaviour and course correct and its how husbands can hopefully predict when to stay out of their wives' way. That's pretty much workable.

Potential problems arise when we apply our assumptions on people we don't know very well. A manager on her new team members. A teacher on his new students. A trainer on her new participants. A coach on his new client. In fact, among all of these professions, a coach has the most to lose by assuming too much about her client and the most to gain by not assuming.

Whenever you try to coach someone and your client raises a 'familiar' situation, your brain tries to go into "ball and child" mode, to piece together an answer based on your own disparate experiences. The danger is, instead of allowing the client to arrive at her own solution, you begin to ask leading questions that will guide her towards your preconceived solution.

As experience tells us, most often, the client won't take up the solution because she didn't build it. The coach did.

So, how do we solve this within ourselves as a coach? The answer of course is to clarify. When you think you understand something the client is telling you, validate it by asking about it. However, keep the question open-ended enough to ensure that you aren't putting your preconceptions in her brain.

Not "So, you mean you're looking for a way to live comfortably?" to a statement "I want to be rich" as she never used the word 'comfortably'. Instead of probing her definition, you are creating your own, which will interfere with the coaching process.

Better this, "You want to be rich? That's interesting to me. What do you mean by rich?" This way, she's free to define the terminology she just used.

Educate yourself to better frame your questions so that it is easier to get clearer answers. Clearer answers lead to clearer solutions. Clearer solutions are those the client is willing to attempt.

If you can't do even that, then, just stop assuming.