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How to Not Make Assumptions and Start Communicating

Stop assuming and start asking.

We’ve all been guilty of it at some point – jumping to conclusions, filling in the blanks, and making assumptions about people and situations without having all the facts. Whether assuming your friend is mad at you because they didn’t text you back right away or assuming you know what your boss is thinking during your performance review, the habit of making assumptions is pervasive in our daily lives.

But here’s the problem with assumptions: they’re more often than not wrong. Acting on incorrect assumptions can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, missed opportunities, and strained relationships. When you assume, you stop listening, seeking to understand, and giving others the benefit of the doubt. You risk operating from a place of judgment rather than empathy and open-mindedness.

So why do we fall into the trap of making assumptions? For one, our brains are wired to try to make sense of the world by filling in gaps in information. When we don’t have all the facts, we connect the dots, often based on our experiences, insecurities, and biases. Making assumptions can also feel easier and less vulnerable than directly asking questions or communicating. We might assume we already know how someone will react or what they’ll say, so we don’t bother to ask. Or we may be afraid of the response we’ll get if we seek clarification.

But while assuming may feel like the path of least resistance at the moment, it creates far more difficulties and drama in the long run. Think about a time when someone assumed you. Maybe they assumed you were angry based on your facial expression when you were deep in thought. Or perhaps they assumed you weren’t interested in a project when, in fact, you were waiting to hear more details before jumping in. Being on the receiving end of an assumption feels unfair and frustrating. It makes you feel misunderstood and judged.

The antidote to assuming is quite simple: start asking instead. Rather than jumping to conclusions, get curious. Rather than filling in the blanks yourself, invite the other person to share their perspective. For example:

  • Instead of assuming your partner is irritated with you, ask them, “You seem a bit off today – is everything okay? Is there anything I can do to support you?”
  • Instead of assuming you didn’t get the job because they didn’t like you, send a follow-up email: “I enjoyed meeting with you and your team. Could you share any feedback on how I could improve my interviewing skills for future opportunities?”
  • Instead of assuming your child doesn’t want to talk to you because they’re always on their phone, check in with them: “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been spending a lot of time on your phone lately. Is there anything going on that you want to talk about? I’m here to listen if you need me.”

When you make a habit of asking instead of assuming, several powerful things happen:

  1. You gather more information and gain a fuller picture of the situation, allowing you to respond thoughtfully rather than hastily.
  2. You show the other person that you value their perspective and feelings. Inviting them to share their experience helps them feel seen and heard.
  3. You open the door to greater connection and understanding. Relationships are strengthened when people slow down to listen and share openly and honestly.
  4. You model emotionally mature communication, inviting others to communicate directly with you. You create a dynamic where asking questions and having constructive dialogues feel safe.

Of course, breaking the habit of assuming is easier said than done. Our assumptions can be so automatic and deeply ingrained that we hardly notice we’re making them. Slowing down and getting curious about uncertainty takes practice and intention. Start by noticing when you’re making an assumption. Pause and ask yourself, “Do I know this for a fact, or am I filling in the blanks?” Then, challenge yourself to replace the assumption with a question.

With time and practice, replacing assumptions with curiosity will feel more natural. As you get more comfortable asking questions, you’ll likely find that others feel more comfortable opening up to you as well. You’ll waste less time and energy spinning stories in your head and spend more time in real, meaningful dialogue. Your relationships—with your partner, family, friends, and colleagues—will be infused with more empathy, trust, and understanding.

Ultimately, breaking the habit of assuming is about adopting a mindset of humble curiosity. It’s about recognizing the limits of your own perspective and being genuinely interested in learning about the perspectives of others. It’s about leading with questions rather than judgments and seeking to understand before being understood. And in a world where we’re so quick to make snap judgments and retreat to our own echo chambers, that’s a courageous and revolutionary way to live.