Challengers Challenge Assumptions
You learn from experience. Right?
From the lessons of experience, you form and derive assumptions upon which you base your approaches to working and interacting with others.
Assumptions can be extremely useful. They provide guidance on how to respond to situations based upon previous experiences so there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Assumptions are fine, even necessary, if your current reality is still consistent with the reality that led to the assumption in the first place.
And that’s the rub.
What if “reality” changes? When that happens—and it does more often than you may want to admit—then the very assumptions that previously contributed to your success may suddenly get in the way of your effectiveness going forward. Assumptions that are true in one context may, in fact, become false in another.
For instance, we used to have the assumption that all effective learning and training must take place in person. In a matter of weeks, that assumption was upended as the world shut down in response to the COVID pandemic.
In addition, unexamined assumptions can close your mind and heart to new possibilities and can push you into black-or-white thinking. The risk is that you will become an advocate for a point-of-view or position that may be built upon faulty, outdated, or even false information. Families also adopt assumptions, which sometimes can be the most rigid and difficult to challenge because of cultural or family history.
The Challenger role in TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® calls forth learning and growth of self and others. They are also often the “truth teller,” who provides a vital function in raising and challenging assumptions.
It is difficult to challenge your assumptions unless you become aware of them. So, commit yourself to the practice of identifying assumptions, both your own and of those you work and live with.
Challenging your assumptions begins with pausing and asking yourself, “What assumption have I made as it relates to…(fill in the blank)?” This will help reveal your hidden assumption. Peeling back the layers to reveal underlying assumptions can be a liberating experience.
When working with others, challenge assumptions with kindness and compassion. Assumptions strongly held by others can seem like “truth” to them. Avoid challenging assumptions with a “you are wrong” tone, which will cause defensiveness (and you’ll be perceived as a Persecutor!).
Instead, experiment with nonjudgmental language as you challenge. Here are three suggestions of what you might say:
- “Help me to understand what assumptions you are making?”
- “I want to understand your point-of-view and I think I am missing something. What assumptions are you making?”
- “Can we take a step back and look at what assumptions you are making and the ones I am making? I’d like to make sure we are on the same page.”
Once an assumption is identified and examined, you can take one of three actions:
- You can reaffirm it as still valid (taking time to revalidate can be valuable learning);
- You can revise it to match current reality (which we have done by transitioning our training to online, rather than in-person), or
- You can let go and “retire” it, as it no longer serves a purpose (which will free up time and energy to redirect to creating outcomes).
Learning from experience and developing assumptions are essential qualities of living and working as a Creator. From time-to-time, pausing and checking into assumptions with yourself and others can energize the co-creating process. We encourage you to be a Challenger who challenges assumptions in service to learning and growth.