It's Easier to Split an Atom Than Eliminate a Preconception (Assumptions)

Sometimes, you believe that you know what the intentions and thoughts of others are. At others, you think that they know what you think or are going to say. However, this means you're falling into the trap of making assumptions.
It's Easier to Split an Atom Than Eliminate a Preconception (Assumptions)

Last update: 30 April, 2022

There are many times when you don’t really listen to what another person is saying to you. In addition, when you ask them a question or for an opinion, almost unconsciously, you expect them to answer what you want to hear. In other words, you assume. An assumption is nothing more or less than an idea that you have about the reason for an action, gesture, or verbalization of another, and you act accordingly.

However, your assumptions often lead you to label the gestures, words, and modalities of others without checking if you’re correct. Thus, you make prophecies that self-determine realities. This doesn’t allow the other person to confront you concerning what they really meant.

Self-fulfilling prophecies are cognitive constructs that lead you, after thinking about them, to act accordingly. This means you don’t check with the other person if what you thought is really true or if your actions are consistent with their response.

Couple talking at sunset

For example, if you assume that your partner is bored with your conversation, you’ll try to amuse them, make them interested, or distract them.

Nevertheless, this means that there’s no spontaneity in your dialogue, much less a relaxed conversation. In fact, the more you try to appear likable and entertaining, the more you run the risk of making the situation tense and unpleasant.

It’s perfectly feasible that the result will be a break in the dialogue, which confirms your initial assumptions. Consequently, you’ll attribute the boredom of your partner as the cause.

Low self-esteem

The same happens with people with low levels of self-esteem. In their relationships, they position themselves asymmetrically below others, building self-deprecating fantasies about what others think of them. In addition, they’re insecure and weak, carrying out actions that are aimed at seeking affection and recognition.

These kinds of people eagerly try to find value on the outside when, in reality, (beyond the fact that all humans love to be appreciated and valued) it’s the opposite. After all, how’s it possible to let others validate them if they consider themselves to be so far removed from any positive evaluation?

This mechanism ends up giving paradoxical results. Their assumptions mean they try to do things to be recognized or valued by others. However, the more they execute these actions, the more dependent they become on relationships with others. Therefore, they experience greater insecurity. Consequently, this doesn’t favor raising their self-esteem, but quite the opposite. In effect, the more they seek to be qualified, the more they disqualify themselves.

Assumptions versus questions

Although it may be simple to ask another directly about the meaning of their actions, you tend to choose to stick to assumptions. Indeed, your emergent response tends to be that of your own idea and not the intention of the person you’re speaking to.

This complicates the complexity of interactions. An assumption is a cognitive construction (attributions of meaning) that you make regarding the attitudes or thoughts of another. You act in response to what you assume, which may, in reality, be far removed from what the other person says or does.

Communication between you will be hindered even more if you don’t take into account that your behavior collaborates with the other’s reactions. In other words, you won’t get involved and won’t ask yourself “What have I done for them to respond to me like that?”. It’s as if you aren’t even present in the field of interaction.

Immersion in systems

You’re always immersed in certain systems and you must understand that all behaviors are influenced. In human relations, the almost inevitable emergence of the assumption gives rise to three types of interventions:

  • To displace the assumption that you’ve established and ask openly about the gesture. For example: “What are you trying to express with that gesture?”, “What are you trying to tell me?”, “Why are you puckering up your mouth?”, “Why are you wrinkling your forehead?”.
  • To ask about your assumption, about what you think the gesture means. For instance, in front of raised eyebrows: ” Does what we’re discussing make you angry?” or, in front of a yawn, “Are you sleepy?” or “Am I boring you?”. Although your assumption is put into play, you’re using metacommunication. It’s equivalent to saying “I think you’re angry, am I right?” or “I guess I’m boring you?” It’s all about being able to corroborate or disconfirm your assumption.
  • To act as if your assumption were the valid one (a chaotic intervention). You’re positive about what the other person does, feels, or thinks and don’t use metacommunication.

In the first two options, you give credit to the other person’s response. In the third, you continue to trust your own ideas about their gestures or words. Therefore, any clarification is useless because you simply don’t believe them.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

In the aforementioned kinds of situations, it’s feasible that you’ll produce what you suppose in the other person, thus making a prophecy. The following conversation is a good example:

Are you angry?

“No. I’m fine”.

“I can tell you’re angry“.

I tell you, I’m fine”.

“But I can tell you’re cross”.

No. I already told you, I’m okay. Stop bothering me”.

Well, if you don’t want to tell me, don’t tell me”.

For goodness sake, I told you I’m fine. You’re the one who’s annoying me!” (accompanied by an angry gesture)

“See, I knew you were angry”.

This is a dead-end dialogue where every answer given confirms the other’s assumption. It’s a maddening process. For this reason, it’s always important to ask instead of assuming and to give credit to the other’s response.

people chatting

Thinking you know what the other’s going to say (and vice versa)

Another communicational phenomenon within the category of assumptions consists of believing that you know what the other is going to say, so why should you explain it to them?

This is a fairly common assumption. It’s when you say something like: “I know you know already because you understand me”. Hence, you take it for granted that they already know what you’re going to say and will tell you. 

The assumption that the other knows what the answer is going to be means that any type of explanation or explanatory development is ignored.

When you ignore someone’s explanation in the belief that it’s not necessary, you’re taking something for granted that you don’t clarify with them. This can prompt you to anticipate answers or actions that you expect them to carry out based on your understanding. The result is frustration between what you expect and what you receive (their answer).

Along these lines is the kind of assumption in which you affirm: “I already know what you’re going to tell me”. Indeed, in exactly the same way that the other person is supposed to know what you’re going to say, you assume that you know what they’re going to do, feel, or say.

This results in them either not listening to you or downplaying your response, further amplifying your assumption. In fact, there may be cases in which you don’t even allow them to speak because you assume you already know the answer No, don’t say it, I already know what you’re going to tell me! ” you might say in these instances.

Or, you may listen to them, but not register what they’re saying. Then, when you do respond, it’s in accordance with what you imagined or your previous assumption.

Any of these variables give prevalence to an assumption and not what the other person really tried to convey to you.

Categories

As you can see, your perceptions are structured in categories. These categories are like boxes, in which you place what you perceive. Assumptions are interpretive categories whose target is focused on the cadence and tonality of the way you express yourself, your literal responses, gestures, and the content of your messages.

We’re all prisoners of the categories that we apply. The question is whether we operate them with certainty and don’t question them. In fact, questioning imposes doubt and this is a blow to the rigid structure of the assumption.

Although it’s impossible to eradicate assumptions from your cognition, you should ask yourself about your assertions, absolute truths, value judgments, and other rigid conceptual positions. This action will improve your communication and transform it into a wise learning process.

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