First Time Manager | Learning #2: Ask. Don’t assume.

Have you ever been in a situation where you assumed something about a certain situation or person and took some action but later on when you found out more about the situation, you regretted your actions?

It happens to the best of us.

Managers do this a lot more than they think or would like to admit. It is an easy trap to fall into especially when there is urgency or when other biases are also playing out.

Take this example:

Rahul and Kunal are two people who work for the sales department. Rahul is presenting a new idea in a meeting today. He sees that while he is presenting, Kunal keeps checking his phone. When Rahul asks for everyone’s opinion, Kunal says something to the boss and leaves the meeting. A couple of hours later, Rahul sees Kunal talking to some other colleagues and laughing. Rahul feels like Kunal undermined him in the meeting, did not show any interest in his idea, and is now making fun of his idea along with others in the office. Rahul now believes that Kunal doesn’t respect him.

Kunal was waiting to hear back from a customer so he was checking his phone. He decided to leave because he wanted to make sure that he doesn’t disturb the meeting. He told his boss that he liked Rahul’s idea and will catch up with Rahul tomorrow to better understand the idea. When Rahul saw Kunal laughing with other colleagues, Kunal was talking to them about the funny things that the customer had said.

Rahul jumped multiple steps on what researchers call ‘The Ladder of Inference’.

He saw what Kunal did. He assumed that Kunal’s action and his presentation were related. He drew the conclusion that Kunal was not interested in his idea. He now believes that Kunal doesn’t respect him. In the future, this might stop Rahul from working with Kunal.

It is important that we don’t fall jump steps of this ladder (or any ladder for that matter), especially when we are making decisions. In other situations as well, it is important that we climb one step at a time.

The way to climb the ladder is to get as many facts as possible. We need to eliminate assumption as much as possible. The best way to do assumption is: Ask. Don’t assume.

You are seeing someone being a little off while working? Ask them what’s causing this. Maybe they will tell you what’s bothering them and you can support them to solve it. Sometimes they might not be aware that its happening and just building that awareness will solve it.

Your boss is asking you to do something that you are not completely in sync with? Ask them to explain the reasoning to you. Ask them as many questions as you have with the intention to learn and understand and not with the intention to find faults.

Listen to understand and not to respond.

Separate ‘listening to what others are saying’ from ‘analyzing what others said’.

It will make your life easier. It will make it easier to empathize. It will make it easier to have emotional constancy during testing times. It will give you a different perspective of situation. It will make your managees feel heard. It will give everyone else a chance to explain their thinking process.

It will help improve your relations with your colleagues. The next time you get the urge to assume, stop yourself, ask a question instead.


Other articles in this series:

Learning #1: Everyone wants to be successful. Enable it.

Skill #1: Learn skills faster.