Assumptions and how to challenge them

What are Assumptions?

On a daily basis we all make assumptions. Some are conscious however many of them are unconscious. Those that are unconscious have become habitual ways of thinking.

Assumptions serve a useful purpose

They provide a short cut in our thinking. For example, I assume that health professionals care about my health when I go to see them. I don’t need to think this through, although with any new practitioner I may be wary and check out my assumptions in advance by seeking feedback from others. On the other hand if I am walking down a city street at night and I hear footsteps coming up behind me I assume that I could be in danger and start to react.

What happens when we make assumptions?

We often receive self-confirming feedback. Perhaps not always in the case of the danger at night, thank goodness. However, if we assume that someone is going to act towards us in a positive way then we show this in our attitude towards them and it normally gets reciprocated. Equally if we assume someone will be hostile, our actions show this and this is also often reciprocated.

The Ladder of Inference

I have written previously about assumptions and referred to a framework called a Ladder of Inference first proposed by  Chris Argyris. 

As you can see from this, we observe something, select data from this observation, add meaning to this date and then make assumptions, which in time lead to beliefs and eventually turn into actions

Assumptions over time become beliefs

As a result turn into ‘facts’. In organisations this is how group think and mind sets develop. Sometimes it needs a new person to come in and challenge these assumptions in order to break out of set ways of thinking.

Challenging our Assumptions

There are techniques  that can help challenge assumptions

The first way in which you can challenge assumptions is to work backwards down the ladder of Inference.  Check out how your beliefs and assumptions were formed. Did you ignore any other relevant data?

In Creative Problem Solving (CPS),  it is crucial that assumptions are challenged in order to address the core problem and find effective solutions.

An exercise I have found very useful in working to challenge assumptions in any particular situation is one developed by Peter Senge, based upon the ladder of inference, called The Left Hand Column.

Take a piece of paper and draw two columns. On the right hand side you state the facts, or what was said in a situation. Against each of these points on the left hand side you write what you were thinking.

As this shows the progression of thoughts and the development of assumptions in any situation, it can throw light on our perception of a situation. It can be very helpful in surfacing assumptions in any situation and can lead to an analysis of why challenging situations have arisen.

Another way to challenge assumptions

Ensure that there is diversity in any team and to invite in people from different backgrounds. In CPS terms this is known as ‘fresh eye’, as people from different backgrounds will most likely have different perceptions to any problem.

Do you have any examples of ways in which assumptions are challenged?

 

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. which covers the process of CPS and techniques that can help challenge assumptions.

The Importance of Mindsets

Have you ever wondered why some people always respond in the same way in certain situations? In the workplace, when faced with change, one response often heard is ‘well we have already tried this, and it didn’t work’.

Another is ‘yes that’s a good idea but…

What is a Mindset?

These responses are signs of a mindset. The mindset in this example is that of a having a negative response to the world around us. Although an overworked cliche, it’s the way of seeing the world as a glass half empty rather than a glass half full.

Mind sets are ways in which we habitually respond to our world and represent our prevailing attitudes. They develop from the way we perceive and how we interpret those perceptions.   As they have become habits we often use them without thinking. They can become automatic.

A Positive v. Negative Mindset

Some mind sets, such as the one I have mentioned above can have negative consequences both for ourselves and others around us. If we are continually responding with a ‘yes, but’, then people will stop involving us in new projects. We will be always putting up barriers. Continue reading “The Importance of Mindsets”

Habits that inhibit success for women

It seems that every day I receive an email offering advice on habits. The popularity of neuroscience has spurned an interest in how our brains work and what we can do about it. Habits are such simple things. Developed over time, they become enduring and quite resistant to change. They serve a purpose for us, in that they short-cut the need to think about how we behave in certain situations, and they reap rewards when that purpose is served. Continue reading “Habits that inhibit success for women”

Going with the Flow v. Setting Goals

Going with the FlowThe start of a New Year always brings out a lot of advice on setting goals and making New Year resolutions, so in this post I am going to discuss some of the issues I see with setting goals and compare the rational, logical approach of setting SMART goals to the more intuitive approach of ‘going with the flow’.

On  a personal note I have always been a bit averse to the setting of goals, especially the setting of SMART  goals. However I confess to spending some time at the start of every year reflecting on my future path. As a strong P in MBTI terms, setting actual goals seems to be a constraint too far and I feel much more in tune with the concept of going with the flow! Continue reading “Going with the Flow v. Setting Goals”

The Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it

What is the Imposter Syndrome?

Do you recognize this feeling? You are about to step into a networking meeting or planning a meeting with a potential client and you have this message popping into your head – ‘these people will realize I am not that good’ or ‘I can’t handle this, I am a fraud.’ Then you are not alone. For example, Liz Bingham, managing partner Ernst & Young , once thought to herself: “What are you doing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to be found out.” Maya Angelou has been reported as saying “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find [me] out now.”
Continue reading “The Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it”

Working to our Strengths is Energising

Focussing on improving or eliminating our weaknesses is the most important aspect of personal development, right? No wrong! When we focus on our weaknesses the messages we take on unconsciously is that we are not good at things.

This  tendency to focus on our weaknesses  is not helped by the constant corporate insistence on measurement against targets. I have worked with many leaders giving feedback on a 360 degree process and in the main the first focus is  what are their weaknesses and how does this effect their performance? Continue reading “Working to our Strengths is Energising”

What is really important in a change programme?

I recently came across a very interesting article about Kaizen methods
of change which led to me revisiting the concept of Kaizen and change. I have always understood Kaizen to be about facilitating change through small steps. In fact the original Kaizen approach, as declared by the Kaizen Institute , emphasizes that it is not just about small steps, rather it is about everyone being involved in change. Continue reading “What is really important in a change programme?”

Goals are important however they should not be set in stone

As someone who is in the business of supporting others to change, I accept that the setting of goals is very important. However I am reminded, every time I set a goal, of the line from John Lennon’s song Beautiful Boy,  ‘ Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans’.

I am sure this has been interpreted many times in many ways however I wanted to share my take on this and the context in which I am writing this. Continue reading “Goals are important however they should not be set in stone”

Why self confidence is an issue for women

A report from the UK’s Institute of Leadership and Management claims that women have lower career confidence than men and more self doubts, and women with self doubts have lower expectations. In her book, “Lean In,” Sheryl Sandberg wrote about seeing plenty of women with self confidence issues, stating that whilst men ask for what they want and believe they deserve it, women on the whole do not.

In my recent blog on women on boards I quoted an EU report that claimed that 60% of university undergraduates are women, but significantly fewer go on to leadership positions. Continue reading “Why self confidence is an issue for women”

Women on Boards

So should we take positive action to get women on boards?

Yes. Let me justify this with my argument.

If you look around in any country, the senior roles in large companies are held  by a small clique of mostly men. Not just this, but men who went to the same schools. It reminded me of the last time I went to a conference in the UK and watched the endless lines of grey suited, grey haired men trooping into the room. Occasionally there were women as well, however on the conference platform again mostly men. Continue reading “Women on Boards”

4 ways passion is important at work

Passion can be defined as any powerful or compelling emotion. This can be either positive or negative and wars have been fought due to the level of negative emotion.  So, what does passion mean in a work context?

4 ways in which passion is important at work

  1. Passion is strongly correlated with motivation. If people are passionate about what they are doing then they will be motivated. Motivation and passion will keep you going and developing

“The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” – Malcolm Gladwell Continue reading “4 ways passion is important at work”