To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson (from “The Long Kiss Goodnight”), “When you make an assumption you make an ass out of both ‘u’ and ‘umption’.” Why does it make someone an ass to make an assumption? Because to assume is to jump to a conclusion without all of the facts. Obviously, you’re a smart cookie, you know the textbook definition of the word assumption. But, think about the idea of reaching a conclusion without the facts. Imagine how much shit could go wrong! You’ve heard the stories, the husband that assumes his wife is cheating when she’s just planning his surprise party or the girl that assumes a boy doesn’t like her because she didn’t get a phone call when the boy was just busy. On a daily basis, we can see the people around us breaking the third agreement.
1.) The Assumption: Finishing someone’s sentence. (Similar to this is answering the question you think someone asked instead of answering the actual question that was asked.) In most situations, I’m the person in the room that has thoughts contrary to the consensus. So, when someone attempts to finish my sentence (no matter how well they know me) they are wrong 100% of the time. This gets exponentially annoying when they keep trying to guess. Here’s my favorite recent example.
Her: What kind of sandwich is that?
Me: No, it’s…
Me: No, it’s…
Her: It kinda looks like…
Me: You know, I’d love to answer you if you’d let me!
A similar frustration in communication is when people answer the wrong question.
Me: What time is it?
She: We don’t have to be there until 7:30!
Me: That’s not what I [fucking] asked you!
The Reason: It gives us comfort to feel like we know what’s about to happen. This is why we try to guess whodunnit in the murder mystery. A lot of people don’t like surprises and want to feel a sense of knowing and control in their environment. So, we tell ourselves that we know what’s in that sandwich. We tell ourselves that we know why that person is asking about the time. When we feel overly confident about the answer we speak out of turn and make an ass out of ourselves.
How To Keep The Third Agreement: Imagine that one-to-one conversations are like a stage play. If you were in an audience and tried to guess the end of the actor’s line by blurting it out you’d (hopefully) be removed from the theater. You can also imagine that the person speaking to you is holding a press conference and you’re required to hold your questions until the end. Sometimes if a person is telling a story, people interject with questions because they assume that the information/detail won’t be covered in the story. In general, we can stop making this sort of assumption by being patient (read: shutting the fuck up).
2.) The Assumption: Expecting a third party to explain why someone feels/acts a certain way. I always remind myself to never ask person A what person B is thinking. I asked a friend to catsit for me. I sent her an email with loads of “rules” for catsitting. Most of the rules were either ridiculous, pranks, or based on a bad past experience with some other cat sitter. All of the rules were negotiable. When someone’s doing you a favor you should do what you can to make it easy for them. After reading my email, she told me that she couldn’t cat sit for me without any explanation other than “not feeling comfortable” doing so. I got her on the phone and we talked it out. During our conversation she mentioned that she got the opinion of a friend on the matter before she made her decision not to catsit. “So, you got the opinion about what I said from someone who doesn’t know me instead of talking to me directly?” I went on to apologize to her and explained the ridiculous, prank, bad past experience, and negotiable elements of the “rules” that I’d written. We laughed about it and everything was cool. (You know who you are. I love and appreciate you for looking after my “kids” and my home.)
The Reason: Humans are peaceful and will avoid conflict in the spirit of self-preservation. Often we would rather seek counsel from a trusted source when something strikes us as odd. “Is it just me or does this sound weird to you?” We want a second opinion and sometimes we seek it without completely understanding the first opinion. I avoid gossip, but there are times when it’s overheard in an elevator or other places. I over hear questions like, “why would they do that?” I always have the same (inner voice) response. “Why don’t you just ask them directly instead of asking this third party to fuel an assumption?”
How To Keep The Third Agreement: Start by reading (or re-reading) this post about asking direct questions. Ask, ask, and then ask (directly) again. I had sex with a friend and I was worried that since the sex wasn’t planned and it just kind of happened that maybe she didn’t feel positive about the experience. So, I asked her. I want to be clear, I did NOT ask her, “how was that sweet loving?” I asked her how she felt about how things transpired and I wanted to make sure that it didn’t hurt our friendship (which I valued above all else). We talked about it over tea and everything was cool. Remember, never ask person A what person B is thinking. That’s the same as asking someone else to make an assumption for you.
3.) The Assumption: Confusing feelings with facts. I went to Hawaii and stayed with a friend. During my time with her I came to find out that she had been dealing with some personal frustrations. One morning in particular, she missed an opportunity for lower-priced airfare on an upcoming trip. She was then venting her frustrations about everything throughout the day. At one point, I asked/suggested that we talk about gratitude. I just wanted to break the tension. When I returned from my trip, I posted photos in a Facebook album (this story is one of the reasons that I deleted my FB account, BTW). The album included pictures from a hot air balloon trip that happened in October 2012. Someone commented on the album (not a picture but the entire album) asking about the hot air balloon trip. She asked if she should go alone or take someone with her. I replied that she should only take someone (in a hot air balloon) if they were the type to shut the fuck up and enjoy it. My Hawaii pictures were in the same album and the friend that I’d stayed with saw the aforementioned comment exchange and deleted me. I sent her several messages via phone calls (that’s still a thing), FB, and text to ask what was going on. After a day or so, she replied to explain that she decided to proactively end the friendship to remove her negativity from my life. She went on about how she had obviously ruined my trip (she had not) and all of this was based on the comment exchange about hot air ballooning. The comments on an album are all stacked together. So, she assumed I was suggesting that you should only go to Hawaii with someone that could “shut the fuck up and enjoy it”. The trip to Hawaii happened in March and the comment regarding the hot air balloon trip happened in October 2012. So, a friendship of eight years ended over an assumption when she responded with feeling instead of fact (the timestamp of October was on the comment).
When you listen to people tell their stories, something worth observing is the misuse of the words basically and probably. The next time you hear something along the lines of, “Basically, they told me to get the fuck out!”, think critically. Ask the person, “did they say that?” I used to be a peer mediator in high school and I got into the habit of clarifying someone’s story with, “what did they actually say?” It’s funny to hear people back pedal, “Well, no. They actually said, ‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave.'” Well, that’s a big fucking difference between the feeling and the fact now isn’t it?
The Reason: No human is 100% logical. Even sociopaths make decisions based on some emotion. We remember things based on perception and emotion. We remember things based on how it made us feel. This is why cops need multiple witnesses and why we’re familiar with the phrase “just the facts, ma’am”. We are emotional beings. How you felt that day and how you felt about the interaction will shade your recollection of the details.
How To Keep The Third Agreement: Keep challenging your thoughts. Is that what happened or what I felt? What do I know and what am I assuming?
Version 1 of the story: “A man walked in and started shooting.”
Version 2 of the story: “A man walked in that must have been a disgruntled employee. He shot the managers first and then he took a drink from the bar. He must have been an alcoholic.”
We can stop making this sort of assumption by sticking to the facts. The facts, all of the facts, and nothing but the facts. If no one asked for your feelings, keep your heart on your sleeve.
4.) The Assumption: Expecting your partner to know what you want despite having never asked.
Disappointed GF: “I can’t believe he chose to take me here for my birthday!”
GF’s BFF: “Where did you want to go?”
DGF: “Anywhere but here!”
BFF: “Did you give him some suggestions?”
DGF: “He should know what I like by now!”
Not only is that a true story, but it’s happened to me no less than three times in my dating life. Over the years, I’ve gotten smarter about asking the right questions when I’ve been given the “I trust you to plan it” setup.
The Reason: Some people have been conditioned to feel shame in asking for what they want. Because of that shame a person may ask a passive question that seems to be leading to something bigger. “Why did you decide to do it that way?” At that point, it’s ideal to check in with them and (after answering their question) ask them how they’re feeling about the subject/event. Another reason is because society (read: fairy tales and romantic media) have convinced us that our ideal partner will know exactly what we need, when and how we need it. As much as we hear the phrase, “a relationship is work” we don’t want to work on communication. We work to get to work (traffic), stay in business, network, socialize, plan vacations, and even plan our meals. Everything is work these days. Can’t we just come home to a partner and not have to work, not have to plan, or explain how they should plan? Sorry, no. If it’s your birthday, plan something that you want to do. Don’t wait on a partner to plan something as a test for how well they know you. (Caveat: If they volunteer, let them have at it. Just be kind/graceful if you dislike what they create on your behalf and remember it, hopefully, came from a loving place.)
How To Keep The Third Agreement: If you ever hear your partner asking, “how [the fuck] was I supposed to know that?” Then you were the one that dropped the communication ball. Speak your mind, ask for what you want. Marcia Baczynski has a site dedicated to the matter. I’ve worked with her in some open relationship discussion groups and I love what she has to say about inter-relationship communication free from judgment or persecution.
Thanks for reading! Keep your eyes open next week as I reveal the “secret” of why everyone’s late all the goddamned time.
Until then, here’s Samuel L. Jackson: