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Assumptions: Ask Yourself ‘Is it Real?’

Steven Coveys 5th habit is ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’.

He says this because “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are or, as we are conditioned to see it.”

We all tend to make meanings of everything we experience as they relate to us. This is understandable, and very human. We have so much information to deal with all the time and this shortcut saves our sanity. It is especially important however, given that we have this tendency, for us as leaders to recognise that the meanings we make of what people say and how they say it, could be different from what they intended. This is because humans tend to make assumptions about what we hear, what we see and what we perceive to be true.

These assumptions can make it difficult to reach a shared understanding about anything, to solve problems, resolve conflict, build relationships and work as a team. I was chatting with two members of a highly functioning team recently and one their core communication strategies is to challenge their own assumptions. It’s a great strategy. One that is so simple and also incredibly difficult to consistently practice. It requires a high level of emotional intelligence and can be split into four parts:


To challenge assumptions we must notice that we are making them. We have to understand ourselves and acknowledge that we all make assumptions, often unconsciously for a lot of the time. We assume people’s intentions, meanings, motivations, thoughts and moods. It saves a lot of time. We couldn’t spend our lives clarifying everything otherwise!

But sometimes we must interrupt this pattern and this is where EI comes in. We have to build our noticing muscle around the assumptions that we make. If we think we have detected an assumption, then we must challenge it.


When you notice you may have made an assumption, ask yourself:   “What am I assuming here?”, “How do I know I’m right?” “Where is the evidence for this assumption?” and “What other explanation could there be?”

This puts you in a good frame of mind to be curious and seek evidence for your assumptions


Clarify what you heard or saw to make sure you understand what the other person meant: “you said…did you mean… by that?” “I think I heard you say… is that right?”

Of course when we are having conversations like this we have to really listen to the other person, as opposed to thinking about what we want to say next (we all do it so we might as well admit it!). Rather, try to focus on what they are saying and be truly curious.

When you have sought to understand where someone is coming from, you will be able to respond in a more empathetic way. This will help you to create an environment that invites respect, collaboration and more authentic ‘real’ communication. It’s a win/win for everyone.

Photo: my dog Kim 🙂 Bubbles not real!


Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People . 1989, NY: Free Press.


]If you would like some help refining your communication skills, please give me a call or email for a 30 minute discovery session to get you on your way and see if leadership  coaching is right for you

Ph: 0421775924



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