Does your relationship have termites?
A person can sincerely and deeply believe something and yet, be completely wrong.
If you think that truth doesn’t apply to you, then you just proved my point.
We hear or see something, react, and then realize we only had part of the story.
Sometimes we see or hear nothing, make up a story in our heads, and react based on a gut feeling.
When we’re right it's like winning the lottery, but when we’re wrong the price paid is rarely worth the pain and embarrassment that it costs.
My friend Mike and I mitigate the risk of falling into this trap through a policy we have set in our friendship.
We call it "clearing assumptions."
Henry Winkler once said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
Clearing assumptions is about realizing that the situation I described above actually happens pretty often and provides a method for dealing with those moments before any level of reactivity begins.
I rent my coaching office from Mike and a few months ago, I got it in my head that he was going to tell me that my office wasn't going to be available any longer.
Why did I think that? I think he had a landscaper come to give him a quote on some lawn work or something.
What does that have to do with me renting my office? Absolutely nothing, but I made up a story in my mind that maybe he was going to sell the building, renovate, or who knows what.
How many times have you gotten something in your head and carried it around until it grew to the point where you could no longer contain it?
Mike and I don’t do that.
As soon as the thought and feeling popped into my head I said, “Hey man, I need to clear an assumption with you.”
Because we have this installed in the way we communicate, he was psyched, smiled and said go for it.
This is process is actually really fun and freeing. Mike and I are both coaches and like to test our methods to see how well they work.
I told him what I was thinking, he said nope and that in fact, it was the furthest thing from his mind.
He never made me feel silly for the thought or the question, nor did he feel accused.
Instead of one of us getting to celebrate one of us being right and the other wrong, we both got to celebrate clear, honest communication in an evolved, safe place.
Here are some tips as you begin to use assumption clearing.
- Start by talking generally about the danger in believing that our assumptions are true and maybe share a story about a time you got it wrong.
- Introduce clearing assumptions as a tool that might help both of you to avoid the pitfalls that occur when we are holding assumptions in.
- Agree on a statement or question that will let the other person know you wish to engage this process. It could be, “I’m making up a story,” or simply, “I need to clear an assumption with you.” Whichever phrase you choose, agree that it's the other person’s job to not feel accused, threatened, or irritated. Conversely, the one needing to clear the assumption should avoid using an accusatory tone or making the process feel like an interrogation.
- Complete the conversation and avoid the temptation to rehash outside of the context of the process. If the assumption is cleared in the morning, don’t bring it up either jokingly or seriously at dinner. Allow the space in which it was cleared to be both intentional and sacred. Adhering to completion is a serious trust builder and will make subsequent clearings cleaner.
As I wrap up this blog post, I’m making up a story that I’d like to clear.
I think you have in mind a person you want to try this with.
If I’m wrong, thanks for clearing that with me.
For information on confidential, one on one coaching with Jim Trick, email ThatLifeNow@gmail.com