We All Know What Happens When We Assume
For me it was Mr. McGee, a High School teacher, who first shared the dangers of making assumptions. I cannot recall the context of this lesson from circa 1980, but I distinctly remember him writing the word “ASSUME” on the chalkboard.
He then said, “You know what happens when you assume?”
The class waited for the punchline. He then drew two short vertical lines, before and after the “U”, leaving three distinct words:
A S S [ U ] M E
“You make an ASS out of U and ME”
That was over 40 years ago and it’s still with me, so let’s just say the message stuck.
And We Are ALL Guilty of It
I’m pretty sure most readers will have heard some version of this tale somewhere along the way, and if not, feel free to borrow the one from Mr. McGee.
And, not surprisingly, all of us are also certainly guilty of making assumptions, because, well, you can’t not make them sometimes!
But what if there were an antidote that we could dream up that could help us minimize those occasions where we risk making an ass out of each other, especially with important people in our lives, like our family members?
Well I’ve got good news, there is one. And we all have some of it in us, and we can improve with practice.
My title has already given it away, but for those of you who already got lost in my prose (and I don’t want to assume that you recall the title of this blog) it’s curiosity.
A Coaching Webinar as Source
The idea for this post came a while back when I was watching a webinar about coaching, and presenter said, “The greatest resistance to curiosity is assumptions”.
I jotted that down because I felt like there was some juice to be squeezed from it.
But as I thought about it from many family business contexts with which I am familiar, I decided to turn it around and focus on the assumptions that too many people make about family members.
Rather than looking at “resistance to curiosity”, I want to concentrate on using curiosity to overcome the many problems that come from not having enough curious conversations.
It Comes Down to Attitude
My guess is that senior generation family members are typically guilty of this a bit more often, but I’m sure it happens in every generation.
It typically stems from an attitude of believing you know things you just never bothered to verify.
“Of course the kids will want to work in the family business” comes to mind for me, personally. In my case it also came along with a healthy dose of not leaving me any choice.
My Dad knew what was best for me, or so he surely believed. Of course his plans for me also happened to be what he thought was best for him.
He could have been much more curious about what I wanted, but he never allowed himself to go there, just in case he’d learn something he didn’t really want to know.
Someone from Outside the Family as a Spark
So how might one go about sparking the kind of curiosity that I’m talking about here?
When the group of people is always exactly the same, it’s easy to get into a rut, and there isn’t much room for curiosity.
But what happens when an outsider shows up with the group, and that person is curious and begins to ask questions to satisfy their curiosity?
This could be just the right way for some new subjects and ideas to land on the table for consideration.
There are many things I should have pushed back on with my Dad, but I did not, for all kinds of reasons, many of which are more clear to me now than they were decades ago.
Could a well-placed and well-meaning outsider have helped spark certain discussions that could have been started, so that I could shine a spotlight on some of the many assumptions he had made about me?
Recognizing That Something’s Amiss
Sometimes you know that something is amiss and if you take the time to ask what you’re assuming, you’ll likely be onto something.
If you can then get curious and actually ask questions so that you can learn, you’ll be going in the right direction.