Stop Making Assumptions

“Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”
Don Miguel Ruiz

It was a humbling--if not humiliating--moment. I was listening to one end of a phone conversation between two of my best friends and two of the most passionate educators I know. I heard the friend who I was with consoling the other friend and letting her know it was fine that she was going to have to back out of a commitment she had made to us. I became visibly agitated and even started making comments to my friend while he was still speaking with her that he should insist she honor her commitment. My friend, clearly agitated with me, waved away my comments and finished his conversation. When he hung up, he turned to me and said, “Would you please stop making assumptions?”

He then explained why our mutual friend was calling to cancel her commitment to us. Her reason for canceling, of course, was not a small matter and something about which she had agonized over. When I learned the other side of the story, I frankly wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. I had assumed the worst about someone. To make matters even more egregious, the person I assumed the worst about was someone who I like and respect a great deal, yet I still assumed I knew what she was saying on the other end of the phone and why she was doing what she was doing. I based my assumptions on limited information after listening to one side of a conversation. When I learned the truth about this situation, I was devastated, embarrassed, and filled with remorse. How could I have assumed this about someone I consider a friend?

Too often in my life, I have been guilty of making assumptions instead of truly trying to understand another person’s motives, perspectives, and actions. I need to get better at this and stop making assumptions. In education, I suspect that others may fall prey to this trap as well. We are so busy and stressed that we simply begin making assumptions about why people act the way they do, whether it is about a student who misbehaves, a parent who gets upset with us, or a colleague who lets us down in some way. One of the best things we can do in any such situation is to stop making assumptions about why the person did what they did. Of course, another way we could approach such situations is to go ahead and make an assumption, but only if that is to assume the best about the other person. Maybe we can assume that the student wants to please us and is trying to find a way to let us know she needs our help. Maybe the parent has been working two jobs to make ends meet and wants the very best for his child. Perhaps the colleague we are upset with really respects us and wants to help, but is unsure about his own capabilities and is afraid he will let us down.

We can never know everything there is to know about ourselves, let alone others. One thing we can do, however, to know others better is to stop making assumptions about them or, when we do, to assume the best about them. Jumping to conclusions never helps anyone or any situation and only increases the likelihood that misunderstandings, sadness, and drama will occur among us. As we approach another new year, I, for one, need to do a much better job in this area. I am impatient by nature and prone to acting quickly on limited information. Making assumptions is bad enough in our daily personal lives, but when we do so in our schools and classrooms--especially when interacting with the students we serve--we are failing in a critically important arena that can have long-lasting repercussions.

Let’s stop making assumptions based on limited information this year. When we must make an assumption, let’s assume the best--about our students, our parents, and each other. I make so many
unintentional mistakes on a daily basis, that I certainly hope others will give me the benefit of the doubt and assume my intentions are good, even when my words or actions fall short of my expectations for myself. I, in turn, need to do the same. One year ago, Todd Whitaker, Jimmy Casas, and I wrote a book called Start. Right. Now. in which we share some ideas about things we need to start doing in education. Making assumptions based on limited information, on the other hand, is something we need to Stop. Right. Now. in education. As Ruiz suggests in the quote above, when we agree to stop making assumptions, it can completely transform our lives. It can also help those with whom we interact. Assuming the best of others and not making the assumption that we know why people are acting the way they are is another way we Teach, Learn, and Lead with Passion!

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