Ruining Your Career: The Deadly Effects of Acting on Assumptions

Ruining Your Career: The Deadly Effects of Acting on Assumptions

Omar’s boss had been hounding him for the past few weeks. Omar had been on top of their new project, but it didn’t seem enough. With the sudden seemingly negative attention on him, he began to wonder if he had lost his boss’ confidence. Why else would he be micromanaging the project now? He began to assume the worst and it started to frustrate him. He had always performed well, he didn’t deserve to be treated this way. As the weeks continued to drag on, his morale began to drop. He was ready to step aside if his boss was really so dissatisfied with him.

This story isn’t unique, and I’m sure something similar to this has happened to you. Ask yourself this: when was the last time you made a critical decision based on an assumption? We do this all the time today. Assuming the meaning behind people’s words has almost become a necessity with text messaging and email too. The real problem comes when we begin to take action without validating what we’ve assumed. This almost always leads to disaster.

5 Common Assumptions that Damage Your Career

Here’s the real takeaway: don’t ever come to a conclusion based solely on an assumption. If you do this, and most of us do it a lot, then you’re for sure damaging your opportunities and relationships. At work, you could be causing unneeded friction within the team or limiting your career growth. At home, your assumptions, and subsequent actions, could be slowly infecting the most important relationships you have.

There are a ton of examples about assumptions at work, and while I can’t list them all, these are some that I think might resonate with you most. I’d love to hear more examples too, so if you have some, contact me via Twitter or the comments below.

1. The Angry Boss Assumption

“My boss is angry with me.”

One podcast I like to listen to is This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt. In one episode he tells a story about a boss that everyone thought was angry all the time. They based their assumption on the fact that he didn’t mingle socially and just came out of his office for meetings. Eventually, Michael confronted his boss and to his surprise, the boss candidly said he was simply shy and felt awkward around the team. He learned an important lesson that day about assumptions.

There may be times when your boss is actually angry with you, but you’ll usually know that for a fact. Most capable bosses will make sure to communicate directly with their reports and let them know that there is a serious problem. If this communication isn’t happening, then either your boss isn’t capable (an assumption?) or you’re reading into whatever is happening too much.

The next time you make this assumption, your best course of action is to schedule some one-on-one time with your boss and see if everything is alright. Don’t start off by saying, “why are you mad at me?” Instead, simply ask, “I wanted to know if everything’s alright.” This will make sure your boss, who most likely isn’t already mad at all, doesn’t think he should be mad at you.

2. The No-Confidence Boss Assumption

“My boss doesn’t trust me anymore.”

This usually goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. First, you think there’s a problem, and then you think your boss has lost confidence in your abilities. As you can see, this can continue to spiral out of control if you don’t handle the assumption early on.

If you’ve suddenly gotten some harsh critiques from your boss, or you notice your boss is around more, don’t assume the worst. It could be that your boss doesn’t trust you anymore. Just as likely, it could be that your boss is trying to prep you for a growth opportunity. If you feel like things have changed, you simply need to ask. If it really is that your boss doesn’t have confidence in you then the sooner you know, the sooner you can address the issues.

3. The Conniving Co-worker Assumption

“My co-worker is out to get me.”

This is a really tough one because everyone knows that work-place politics exists. Most of the time, however, our assumptions about a co-worker trying to ruin our careers is not founded in fact. It’s really easy to come to this conclusion, but you’re destroying a relationship that’s important to keep strong. These are people you see sometimes more than even your family, so it’s important to err on the side of caution.

The common theme for handling assumptions is to question them. The best way to do this here is to talk to your co-worker and figure out their motivations and objectives. You might find that you both want the same things, but you’re not communicating enough. They may view you as blocking progress, not understanding that you’re simply taking another approach.

The more you’re aligned with the people you’ve assumed are your adversaries, the stronger position you’ll find yourself in. You may find a strong partner in someone you once viewed as a rival.

4. The Company Culture Assumption

“My company doesn’t value…”

Have you made the assumption that your company doesn’t value something that’s important to you? Let’s face it, we all get frustrated with work sometimes. You might make patterns out of incidents and begin to form assumptions. The trouble is, who is the company? Are you talking about senior leadership, the CEO, the board of directors, or every co-worker you have? This assumption is poisonous because it breeds discontent without a clear focus.

Let’s go with an actual example. If your company has a real problem with gender equality, don’t assume that the company is malicious in its intent. Most likely there is a challenge that isn’t being addressed, but don’t assume it’s intentional. By assuming the company doesn’t value gender equality, you’re already saying it’s a lost cause. Instead, identify the problem you’re seeing and collect feedback to validate your concern. If you feel that it’s a systemic problem, you now have the evidence to back it up and begin to push for change.

The career danger here is that by assuming the worst in the leadership of the company you work for, you begin to poison the culture. Rather than people looking for ways to make things better, they begin to focus on finding the flaws and proving the assumption right. This spiral of negativity may lead to you being viewed as a source of problems.

5. The Lack of Recognition Assumption

“I’m not being promoted because…”

You work hard each day and just want a little recognition for the job you do. Sometimes bosses can forget to praise their employees. It’s common that bosses aren’t always transparent with what’s on their mind. When this happens, you’re going to try to make sense of what’s going on. The easiest answer is to begin assuming reasons why you’re not being properly recognized.

Your assumptions might start innocent, but eventually they’ll feed off each other and create a monster. You might go from thinking that maybe your boss just forgot, to it being about your gender, race, or some other major injustice. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve created an entire story around the problem, you’ll need to dial it back to the facts.

The fact is, you did a job and you feel like you didn’t get recognized for it. Maybe you think you deserve a promotion, but you’re not getting it. What do you do now? I’d say, take the facts, and accompanying feelings, and be direct with your boss—but without all the emotional baggage your assumptions created! Go in clear-headed, and allow your boss to address the concern without it turning into a defensive battle. Remember, you’ll always lose if you force your boss into a defensive position. So, be careful how to approach the situation.

Omar’s (and Your) Next Move

I began this post with Omar’s story because I wanted to use it as a way for you to identify assumptions before you take action. If you’re ever in a situation like Omar was in, the first thing you need to do is hit the brakes. Identify what’s an assumption and what’s real. You’ll realize most of the thoughts and feelings you have are based on the assumptions you’ve made, so throw those away. Only once you’re totally clear minded will you be able to begin to verify if your worst fears are true or not.

I’ll make this point again, because that’s how important I think it is. Take extra care to never come to a conclusion based solely on an assumption. This alone will change the way you handle conflict and help you to avoid actions that could potentially damage your career. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll be able to more effectively address the issues that are keeping you up at night. It’s a win for you and a win for everyone else you work with.


Credit: Feature image by Freepik

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