Top Ten Interpersonal Skills -1- Useful Assumptions

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Top Ten Interpersonal Skills -1- Useful Assumptions

July 29, 2009 Life Skills Must Reads Persuasion 15

1 Today, I’m beginning a series of posts of the Top Ten Interpersonal Communication Skills I’ve learned in my life.  I originally developed this list for J.D. Meier’s excellent blog, Sources of Insight.

The most essential skill I’ve learned, and the one that informs the other 9 best, has to be this.

Make useful assumptions.

Making assumptions is easy.  Making useful ones requires intelligence and intent.  So making useful assumptions is a learned behavior and an acquired skill.  It’s worth learning, because it opens the doorway to all kinds of positive change and outcomes in every sort of relationship.   That’s because assumptions determine behavior and behavior produces experiences that reinforce initial assumptions.  It’s the loop of self fulfilling prophecy, or what I like to call the ‘nature of sanity.’

Sanity is that mental state in which you think you know who you are, where you are, and in general, what’s going on.  To break it down a little further, first you assume that you know something. Once you make an assumption (about yourself, about others, about situations, etc.) you inevitably will act as if your assumption is true.  And your actions will have effects, in that you will find evidence in order to have the experience that your assumption is true.  Said another way, you get to be right.  Getting to be right is the booby prize in communication.  (The booby prize is the prize given to the losers!)   Let’s say it yet another way. “For as you believe, so shall it be.”  Whatever you assume to be true, you act like it’s true and look for proof.  The nature of sanity is an exercise in self-fulfilling prophecy.   While being right rarely leads to change, it frequently leads to conflict.

Fortunately for humanity, someone came up with the scientific method to overcome the blinders placed on us by the nature of sanity.  The scientific method involves forming a working hypothesis (an assumption), then acting as if it isn’t true (testing it, trying to disprove it) and if it remains standing after all that work, you think, hmmm, I guess I’m on to something!  Thanks to the scientific method, the human race has experienced breakthrough after breakthrough in our understanding of the universe and our place in it.  For most people, it isn’t easy to have breakthroughs, because it seems to go against the nature of sanity.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make assumptions.  My wife brought home a book last year called ‘The Four Agreements.’  One of the agreements was to make no assumptions.  When I saw this, i told my wife, “This guy is assuming I can do that!”  I can’t, and I doubt that you can either.  Assumptions play a key role in our ability to navigate in life. After all, you wouldn’t want to have to figure everything out all the time all over again, right?

The role that our assumptions play in communication success is fundamental.  And the challenge with assumptions is to make useful ones rather than limiting ones.  A useful assumption gives you enough informed perspective on your own behavior and the behavior of others that you can engage in behaviors that lead to worthwhile outcomes.  A limiting assumption holds you back, ties you down, and traps you into self-defeating and counterproductive behavior. In other words, your assumptions can either facilitate your communication efforts or obstruct them.  Negative reactions, wrong interpretations, and polarizing positions constitute the interference and obstacles of interpersonal communication that occur as a result of limiting assumptions.

Maybe you have people in your life that will nod their head in agreement whenever you describe your limiting assumptions about certain people.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised.  It turns out that it is pretty easy to find people to agree with anything that ties you up, holds you back, or traps you into self-defeating behavior.  Why?  Misery loves company.

It can be a bit more challenging to find people who understand that it doesn’t matter if the person is a jerk or a moron.  What matters is what you assume to be true and base your own behavior on.  Because limiting assumptions about people inhibit your creativity and resourcefulness, trigger negative reactions in you, and cause you to engage in behaviors that lead to limiting and self-fulfilling outcomes.  “I knew he wouldn’t listen.”  “I knew she didn’t care.”   Did you?  Then you win the booby prize, which is the prize the losers get.

Now you may be thinking, “Yeah, but what I’m right about them?”  Well, what if?  Does it help you or hinder you to be right about that?  Like I said, you have to assume something you will be able to do nothing at all.  But useful assumptions empower you, while limiting assumptions limit you.  And if you must assume something, I say assume something useful. You don’t have to be right about a useful assumption.  But you can use it to find a vector of approach, employ a congruent strategy of communication, and create the possibility of a successful interaction.

I don’t know what your assumptions are about commenting on this blog.  I hope they’re useful.  Like, “I bet he’s serious when he asks for comments at the end of every post!”   What I’m saying here is that I’d love to get your feedback and comments, on this post and on this series.  And I’d love it if you assumed that whatever you might say, no matter how long or short, how deep or shallow, it is useful to me to hear from you!

Be well,



15 Responses

  1. Raul says:

    You’d get a lot more comments if you disabled the mandatory email field.

  2. Thanks Raul for your comment. I wonder if that’s true! I’ve had it disabled in the past.

    The big problem for bloggers is robot spam. I’m running a fairly robust solution, and as you can see, the mandatory email can be fictional if a person prefers it that way (but then, they won’t be notified of follow up comments) but at least you have to be a person to comment.

    FYI, I don’t keep a record of commenters, there is no list, nothing. I may decide to test your assumption about the email field in the near future. I surely do appreciate you saying something, and thanks for commenting in spite of the requirement. I hope you’ll do so again.

    Best wishes,

    • Raul says:

      Hey! 🙂

      Thanks for removing the field requirement, you’ll do just great if you keep listening 🙂

      Apologies if I sounded rude, but the first time I tried commenting, it threw up a second page for some reason I can’t remember clearly, and I closed the window and moved on with my work.

      Since you had been encouraging comments in each post, I thought I could point out what was possibly holding back more people from commenting…

      Thanks for all your work! It is hugely appreciated 🙂

      [ And if I may be a pain again, that blue popup box blocking my reading is not really appreciated… Your content is A-class, you don’t really need that degree of push marketing: or ]

      • Hi, thanks for another comment! I hope to get more from you! And I never thought it rude of you or considered you a pain. You’re being honest, giving me feedback, helping me add perception to what I do, and for all that, I’m grateful!

        As to the blue popup box, for the moment I’m going to leave it in place, simply because it’s turned out to be the best way to make people aware of my free mini-persuasion course and 1 hour audio. Once you’ve used it (and I hope you will) it should leave you alone from that point on.

        Ever heard the expression, “in cyberspace, no one can hear you scream!” ? Well, it seems it is also true that ‘in cyberspace, nobody knows about your free offer unless you tell them! 🙂 I don’t know how many days, weeks, months or years I have left to share what I know, so I’m doing what I can with the resources I have. Next window of time I have, I’ll follow your suggested links. I’m open to being persuaded!!!!

        Meanwhile, your feedback is very helpful, and I do hope you’ll keep talking with me, it makes the effort I put into blogging SOOOO much more worth it to me when I know other people care about what I’m writing!

        Best wishes,

  3. Becky says:

    Hey Rick!
    Cool, so useful assumptions sound great. Could you please give some examples of some useful vs nonuseful assumptions? And maybe an example of how useful assumptions can empower a person? I think I need a little more explaing to really “get it”.
    Thanks, and good article!

  4. Hi Becky! Thanks for the comment and question!

    A useful assumption about people is that they are predictable, because if you can predict something you can plan for it. Another useful assumption about people is that they do what they do for what they consider a good reason. If you can identify their good reason, instead of being adversarial, you can be persuasive by speaking to their interests. A limiting assumption about people is that they are resistant to change, because if you think they are going to resist you, you probably won’t even try. Another limiting assumption is that people have bad intent driving their bad behavior. More on this in an upcoming post.

    Does that help? Hope to hear from you again!Best wishes,

  5. Anette says:

    Hi Rick
    as always verry usefull, your comment on Becky’s question makes it verry clear. This is great help to deal with all these persons who love to limiting everyone in order to be reassured that nothing will change their position. I have a living exemple in my familly of how destructive this limiting assumptions can be on an individual. I am trying to fight it but it is difficult, but I hope no too late, as the kid is now 20 !
    Thank you for all that you share with us.
    Wish you a lot of energy to continue bloging !


  6. Jake says:

    What you are writing about makes complete sense and I can see situations in my life right now where I am causing myself more problems by triggering negative reactions. I find it easy to read and understand what the communication problems are, however I find if almost impossible to actually change my behavior. I need someoene to follow me around all day and slap me in the head. 🙂

    • 🙂 Jake, I’m still laughing at that idea, what a fun image (except for the guy getting his head slapped!) Thanks so much for the comment.

      For what it’s worth, it’s possible to actually change your behavior. You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. The question is how you will do it. You can accelerate the process by identifying your desired behavior, then mentally rehearsing it in past experiences until it seems comfortable and normal to you. Or let nature take it’s course and eventually you will make the change. Either way, change is inevitable.

      Best wishes,

  7. sheri tennenbaum zimmer says:

    I am really enjoying :clicking around and reading your
    many articles.

  8. M.N.Cha says:

    Hi Rick,
    Its true that useful assumptions engage us in useful behaviours but holds us back by negative emotions and reactions (limiting assumptions). To be frank ,It could be corelated with limiting assumptons as such.I ‘ve learnt an important lesson from your article and looking forward to apply them to life situations and change myself and people around.

  9. […] Make useful assumptions rather than limiting ones.  Assumptions help us deal with overload and help us avoid being overwhelmed.  Knowing that we make and use assumptions every day, make useful assumptions over limiting ones.  According to Dr. K, “A useful assumption gives you enough informed perspective on your own behavior and the behavior of others that you can engage in behaviors that lead to worthwhile outcomes.  A limiting assumption holds you back, ties you down, and traps you into self-defeating and counterproductive behavior.”  See Top Ten Interpersonal Skills -1- Useful Assumptions. […]

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