If you have attended as many personal development seminars over the years as I have or have been in the presence of someone who has, then you have probably heard someone say, “Don’t assume. When you do, it makes an ass out of u and me (ass-u-me).” Catchy. It gets a lot of laughs. But wait.
Do you realize that the person making this statement is making quite a few assumptions, herself? She is probably assuming that you are interested in hearing what she has to say. Apparently, she thinks that it is important not to assume; that not assuming is better than assuming and that it is actually possible to follow the imperative, “Don’t assume.”
For me, the point is not whether or not we assume. What is important is becoming aware of the assumptions we are making. And taking the time to “check out” these assumptions.
Imagine someone telling you, “You are being selfish.” What assumptions are they making? Even if you don’t know, just assume you do.
Here are some “possibilities.” 1. It is wrong or bad to be selfish. 2. That you should not be that way. 3. That only one of you is being selfish. 4. You are thinking “only” of yourself. 5. That you are not being sensitive to their needs. 6. There is different between being selfish and taking care of one’s own needs.
Once you become aware of the assumptions you “suspect” that the person is making, you can either assume your assumptions are true or you can remain curious and check them out with some questions.
“Are you saying that, It is wrong or bad for us to focus on our own needs?” “Are you saying that, I should not think of myself?” “Are you actually asking me to focus a little more more on your needs?” “And if you are, does that mean you are being a little selfish too?” (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)
Notice that the responses I am offering are in the form of a question, checking out my assumptions, rather than making an accusatory statement.
So rather than say, “Don’t assume.” I say, “Go ahead and assume,” but stay curious. Become aware of your assumptions and check them out with a question. Do Ask!
On the other hand, accepting part of what a person is saying without agreeing to “all” of the underlying assumptions can be useful.
Take again the statement: “You are being selfish”
Instead of asking about the possible assumptions as I suggested in the previous example, you can instead say “Yes, I am focusing on my needs. And I am glad that you too are taking care of yourself by communicating with me. Now let’s figure out how we can both get our needs met.”
What I am doing here is deliberately inserting my own assumptions that will move the conversation and the relationship forward in a positive direction. I am reframing being selfish as something positive (taking care of oneself). I am saying that I am not the only one taking care of my needs. And I am shifting the conversation from “either/or” thinking to “both/and” thinking, suggesting that one can be both “self” and “other” oriented at the same time. So I “Do Tell”, but only accept what is useful and change what is not.
Reframing is a central idea in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and shifting from “Either/or” thinking to “Both/and” thinking is a central theme in Ericksonian Hypnosis. The language patterns come from the NLP “sleight of mouth” patterns. These are some of the patterns that are taught in the training programs at The NLP Center of New York.