Why we trust our assumptions when we know better

BY MICHAEL F. BROOM, Ph.D., Organization Development Psychologist

Seeking sound and current data

A TV station general manager recently asked me to help resolve a long-standing conflict between his news director and her subordinate production manager. The news director said the production manager was incompetent and wanted to fire him. The production manager believed the news director simply didn’t like him because he was a union steward.

As I worked with each, first individually, then together, I could see that (as is usual in most conflicts) neither had talked to the other beyond justifying their position and blaming the other.

Both were adamant that their assessment of the other was correct. Both had fallen into the trap of trusting their assumptions. Both, on their own, were about to seek and operate from sound and current data.

Trusting our assumptions and interpretations works most of the time (glad to say). But when things are not going well, such trust is misplaced.

Ninety-five percent of the hundreds of conflicts I’ve facilitated were essentially misunderstandings that could have been avoided if either party had sought sound and current data rather than trusting their assumptions.

Offering sound and current data

With the TV station director and manager, neither was seeking nor offering sound and current data. Either could have sought sound and current data, and either could have offered sound and current data that could have resolved or even forestalled the conflict.

It was until the general manager got me involved that both could see the host of assumptions they had made about each other. None of which was accurate. As they listened to each other with open minds, they replaced their assumptions with sound and current data. That allowed them to develop a set of agreements that allowed them to work well together.

When I look at my own life, I can see how I could have prevented many conflicts in my personal and work relationships by being more open, offering more sound and current data about my feelings and thoughts, which were often misunderstood because I rarely shared them.

I assumed others would understand my intentions and behaviors the same way I understand them. Sound and current data need to be offered as well as sought.

I could blame that failure on my strong preference for introversion, but such a preference is little excuse for ineffective and difficult behavior.

How we manage conflict is closely related to how productive and satisfying our lives are at work and home. If you notice that a conflict is approaching, check to see if you have sound and current data about the other person’s intentions. And check to see that you have been sufficiently open about what’s going on with you!

We inhibit our use of sound and current data when our egos’ need for us to be right or be seen as intelligent takes over. Likewise, our egos need to be liked and approved, which may impede our ability to seek sound and current data. In either case, we will pay the price for operating with insufficient and inaccurate information.

It took some work, but with it, our new manager and her production manager created an environment of openness, straight talk, truth and honesty. They were able to do that by agreeing to check with each other before trusting their assumptions and interpretation.

By checking that your assumptions are sound and current, you, too, can resolve and even forestall the conflicts so many of us are prone to.

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of the Center for Human Systems. Check him out on his website at www.CHumanS.com. Or email him at michael@chumans.com if you have any questions about effectively leading or managing change.

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