The Assumption Trap | Lessons from Family Mediation Services
I often find inspiration for posts from my family mediation services. But the reality is that communication lessons are present everyday if we pay attention.
A friend of mine was venting to me recently about his mother-in-law.
He is a videographer.
Exceptionally talented, award-winning, and creative.
He has made a great career creating marketing materials for well-recognized businesses, producing large corporate training programs and webinars, and teaching video production at the college level.
His mother-in-law recently worked on a personal project developing a retrospective video for her husband in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary.
She sought video clips and photos from all her friends and family, vowing secrecy along the way.
Her previous experience editing was limited to using the red-eye feature on her phone camera. In other words, she was a video production rookie trying to create a high-quality production.
Where Our Thoughts Interfere…
My friend was insulted she had not sought his support.
As he talked about this some of his internal dialogue became clear:
After all these years she still doesn’t trust me…
What do I need to do to be respected by her…
How dare she talk about how hard it is in front of me — what gall…
I asked if he offered to help. He felt strongly that he should not impose. If she truly wanted his help she’d ask.
I am very close with his mother-in-law. Shortly after this conversation I happened to be with her and asked if her son-in-law had helped with the video.
She was insulted he had not offered to assist.
As she talked about this some of her internal dialogue became clear:
He is so self-centered…
I can’t believe he can’t take five minute to help after all we’ve done to welcome him in to this family…
And he knows I’m struggling — he really must not like me…
He was surprised she hadn’t asked for his help.
She would love his help but didn’t want to put him in an uncomfortable position.
Two sides to the same coin.
Lessons Learned from Family Mediation Services
They both made quick assumptions based on interpretations of the other’s actions.
Interpretations that assume the worst. Assumptions that fueled with time develop resentment, anger and hurt.
Unfortunately, I see this dynamic play out in my family mediation services work regularly. Both parties making wild assumptions and applying negative meaning, often unfairly, without first checking their assumptions.
Had she originally approached him and said something like, “I know you’re really busy. I don’t want to add more work to your plate. Can you give me any advice on who I can reach out to help me with my project?”
He would have then helped, or given her a good resource. And perhaps he didn’t want to help — but at least this would then be based on information, not guess-work.
Likewise, had he originally approached her and said something like “I don’t want to intrude but just so you know if I can help in any way just let me know.”
Then, she could have taken him up on her offer, or not — again, at least his conclusions would be based on information, not guess-work.
The narratives we have in our head are sometimes right on. And sometimes not!
While there are many strategies to avoid drawing assumptions, here are three:
- Ask clarifying questions before drawing conclusions
- Remember there are always two sides of the story, that have merit from each person’s world view perspective
- If necessary, get help from a third party to broker the communication
Avoid the assumption trap!