How To Stop Making Assumptions

How to stop making assumptions


Here’s a fun game, here are three quick stories that have a common theme… see if you can figure out what it is. (Hint: it’s in the title of the blog post!!)

Last summer I had a conversation with my LIT (Leader In Training) Director that went a little something like this:

Me: Ok, so our numbers for the 4 week program are down, why don’t we start offering 1 or 2 week sessions as an option.

Him: Yeah, we had already talked about that being a possibility, so I went ahead and told them they could do that.

Me: Oh, well, ok.
Does some quick math (on a calculator obviously, because I can’t do much math in my head)
Me: Tell them they can pay x amount for one week, x amount for 2 weeks or the original x amount for the full 4 weeks.

Him: Well I already told them they could pay x amount for 1 & 2 weeks.

Me: Oh…why did you do that?

Him: I just assumed that we would divide the original cost by 4 and charge them that, and since we had already talked about 1 or 2 week sessions being a possibility I just went ahead and told them that.

Me: I wish you hadn’t done that. Typically if you’re offering a program with the option of smaller sessions, you charge different prices and offer a “discount” of sorts for the full sha-bang to encourage people to opt in for the full program. It’s like when you go to the store and there’s a deal on “Regular price $6.99 or 2 for $10.00”.

Him: Well, I didn’t realize that, but it’s too late, I’ve already told them a price.

Me: Yup, you’re right. We’ll just have to go with what you told them.

He was annoyed, I was annoyed, so we just left it at that for a little while and carried on with the other items on our to do lists.

Shortly after, I asked him to have a quick chat. He agreed, and before I could begin speaking, he said “look, I’m really sorry that I jumped the gun with this. I thought I understood how you wanted to handle this but I should have checked with you first.”
I said, “well, I appreciate your apology, but I was actually going to apologize to you. I shouldn’t have assumed that you knew what I was planning to do in terms of a fee structure if we ended up breaking down the program into parts. And honestly, this is a discussion that we should have had from the beginning, when we decided that this might be an option so there wasn’t any confusion. Obviously you can’t read my mind, so I’m sorry that I didn’t communicate that better from the beginning.”

He accepted my apology and we agreed to make sure we were being more clear in our communication moving forward, and trying not to make assumptions. Then we high-fived.


A few days ago, I got an email from my organization’s President & CEO asking about an invoice that we received from an organization we worked with this summer. He was like “… sooo… umm… we got this invoice for a bazillion dollars from organization XYZ. Do you know anything about this?” (Ok, you caught me, I’m totally paraphrasing, he has never once said “soooo…ummm…” in writing or speech, also the invoice was not for a bazillion dollars, although it can sometimes feel that way in a non-profit with a tight budget!)

Anyway, I wrote back (I was working from home) and said “yeah dude, you set this all up, this is old news.” (again, paraphrasing, I’m actually quite polite and respectful in emails… haha)

We spoke a little more and here’s what we figured out happened,

This summer he approached me and said that he had been in a meeting with the head honchos from XYZ and they were interested in some partnership opportunities. He thought it was totally awesome, green lights all around, wanted me to take over and make it happen.


I met with someone from XYZ, we threw around some ideas based on the meeting they had with Mr. Big Boss man, plans were made and they were like “ok, here’s the agreement, this is the fee, sign on the dotted line, new friend.”

So I thought to myself, man, this is sort of a bummer, I don’t really want to pay a bazillion dollars for this, it’s most likely going to come out of my budget and there are so many other things I could do with that money. But Big Boss man is excited about this relationship and said to make it happen, so that’s what I’ll do.

I came in to work the day after our emailing discovery and he popped by my office. I said, “Hi Mr. Big Boss man, listen I’m really sorry about this. I feel terrible. I guess I should have run this by you before committing to anything, but I assumed that you were aware of the fee and wanted me to make this happen.”
He said, “no, no, let me apologize. That’s what I stopped by to say. I should have been more clear in my expectations and communicated that more effectively. When I spoke to them there was no discussion of fees, in fact, they framed it as us doing them a favour so I assumed that we would be waiving our fee or something.”

That made me feel better (although I’m still totally taking ownership of my role in this whole debacle!)
We didn’t high-five but there were some very efficient and professional head nods exchanged.


Then yesterday I thought to myself. Hey, wait a second… if I’ve learned anything this week, it’s to make sure I don’t make assumptions. I’d better follow-up with the people involved in this project that I’ve been tasked with.

See, there’s a lot going on right now, so I was asked if I can take point on a camp related fundraiser that a 3rd party organization is running. I said “sure thing, what do I need to do?”

The person in my organization handing off the project said “oh, it’ll be easy peazy, they’re basically handing everything, we just have to round-up some campers and show up. And sit in on teleconferences with their planning committee when they meet.”

So two weeks ago (also 2 days after I signed on to help with this), he and I sat in on this teleconference so I could get caught up and he could ‘pass the baton’ so to speak. During the meeting, they were talking about the food, and it went like this:

Stranger on the phone: “ok, so we’ve got food being donated, can we count on your team to assemble it and make it pretty on trays again this year?”

Baton passer: “Oh yes, absolutely. You guys just drop it off and the crew in one of our other programs is going to do it again this year, just like last year.”

Everyone: “ok, awesome, cool, great!”

(ahem, I may have paraphrased this conversation as well…)

So based on that conversation, I went ahead and assumed that the crew from our other program had all the details and had already chatted about this and so on.

But yesterday, I decided I’d just better make sure.

I went out back, asked them if they knew about this and you guessed it… nope, nada, nothing.
They said they were happy to do it, just like they did last year but they hadn’t been approached about it by anyone yet.

Fortunately there’s still lots of time before the event, so it wasn’t a big deal at all. But it really could have been.
Baton passer made an assumption that I could read between the lines and figure out that it had now become my responsibility to arrange the food part of the event.
I made an assumption that it was already arranged based on the conversation I was part of.

Unfortunately, there were no high fives in this situation either. I have got to teach the people in the office to be more “campy”.


Where is this belief coming from


Here’s the thing about assumptions, they’re sneaky.
The worst part about making an assumption is that sometimes you don’t even realize you’re doing it!
You just “know” it’s a given. You don’t think to question “why” you think the way you do, you just believe it to be true.

I think the key to preventing assumptions is to stop and ask yourself, “where is this belief coming from?”

If you can’t pinpoint an exact reference for that belief, and you’re just operating based on past experiences, or what makes sense to you, then it’s in your best interest to double-check.

This is just another stop on my journey of becoming a more effective communicator. I am not typically someone who jumps to conclusions, but those little assumptions will sneak in from time to time, so I’m learning to be more thorough in my communication and hopefully that will prevent any more situations like the ones above.

Have you had an experience where you made an assumption and it came back to bite you? Or some tips on how to avoid making assumptions in the first place?
I’d love to hear from you, tell me about your experience in the comment section below.

Categories: If I Could Do It Over... | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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