Episode 97: Stop Assuming and Start Questioning
Episode 97: Stop Assuming and Start Questioning
You know how uncomfortable it feels when someone has already made assumptions about you. Even before you open your mouth they might have formed opinions about you and it feels awful because they’re not really “seeing” you. And as much as we don’t like being in that position we do the same thing and more often than we probably realize with others. The second someone starts talking we think we know exactly where they’re going with it – we ASSUME we know exactly what they’re talking about and so it’s confusing when we suddenly aren’t seeing eye to eye. Turns out you both were having two completely different conversations in your mind. This practice creates a lot of mental drama and can cause division in your connections. This week I give you a key strategy to stop assuming and invite connection. Make sure you tune in because you’re going to want this tool!
How many times have you made assumptions about someone that ended up being completely wrong? These assumptions can get in the way of progress and actually serve as stumbling blocks on the road to connection and growth. So I wanted to speak to you today about a more productive approach that will really help you to not only strengthen your connections with others but also put yourself in a position to learn and progress right alongside the people that you’re working with.
We as human beings interact with people all the time, whether at home, at work, in church callings, even running errands. We have opportunities to reach and connect or what happens more often than not is when you make assumptions about the person – which is a form of labeling and then you end up tripping over your own box of thoughts and stories about that person.
This begins to be a problem because if you’re stuck in your own story, your own assumptions there’s no room for growth or connection which in turn can lead to thought drama on your part not understanding why you’re not able to connect with this individual. I know you know what I mean by this because what happens oftentimes is that you assume what the other party is thinking or what their intents are and maybe they go along with it because they don’t know how to politely tell you that’s not what they’re thinking, or they don’t want to, or in a child-parent/adult role maybe they think they can’t.
So things then just don’t mesh, they’re not in alignment and things aren’t progressing as you think they should. If you’re making assumptions about them they’re not going to want to try and connect with you again. They’re going to remember that it felt uncomfortable and so they’re either try and figure it out on their own or go somewhere else and like I mentioned that creates drama for you because now you’re confused because their actions don’t fit in with the narrative your mind created.
And these unknowns can create a lot of confusion and in the midst of our confusion, your brain loves to bring up old thought tracks which usually are all about your insecurities and weaker areas that you might struggle with. So today I want to offer some suggestions to help us move past these very common stumbling blocks so that you can create confident connections or that you can confidently invite and encourage connection no matter what that relationship may look like.
I’ve had several trainings recently with a group of people that I’ve never met and likewise, they don’t know me. I consider myself to be a unique individual especially with my background in mental health and an expert in self-confidence and quiet confidence. I don’t have – let me rephrase that, I don’t struggle with many common insecurities anymore. It was a weakness that over time and growth and learning has been made into a great strength of mine to which I’m very grateful for and because of that I’m able to ask a lot of questions from people that maybe others wouldn’t ask because they don’t want to look a certain way, right?
They don’t want others to think about them a certain way and so they just try and figure things out on their own and sometimes it works great and others it’s not as helpful. Well, I’m really excited about these trainings and being able to expand my experience in new ways. I’m a voracious learner. I love learning, reading, listening to podcasts, taking courses, just anything I can get my hands on to learn, I’m all there. So before these trainings I wanted to come prepared and think about what questions I might have ahead of time so I’m not thinking on the spot and I came with an entire page of questions that I’d thought of and it was so fascinating to me because the teacher immediately – while entirely well-intended, but immediately dove into an assumption.
He mistook a thirst for knowledge and understanding – or curiosity maybe for insecurities and overwhelm so that’s what he spoke to. It didn’t answer my questions and we hit a wall in our progression or connection because he wasn’t open to another possibility. I even paused a few times and clarified my intent and still, it was met with this thought track and I made the inner decision to let him be wrong about me.
But the problem with this is that we, together missed an opportunity for further progress. He didn’t answer my questions in the way I had hoped. He shared a lot of things that if he knew me or knew where my strengths lie he would never have answered the way he did. It was very much a teacher/student experience where he’s teaching and not open to any other narrative and I think it’s such a disservice when we do that to one another.
Even with my children of course there are times I assume – like all humans do – and I tell you what I’m wrong a lot of the time that I do that. So I don’t like to assume. I don’t like to answer or formulate an answer in my mind before they’re even done asking. And I tell you what – it’s hard to do because your brain really wants to answer a certain way.
You know when you’re talking to someone and they’re not even finished with their sentence yet and you’ve already decided you understand what they mean? So in that moment, you’ve left the present conversation and the present moment and you’ve transported yourself to another world with the scenario and vision in your mind about what they mean. But again, oftentimes we’re wrong and we miss an opportunity to learn and understand what they mean and where they’re coming from.
Here’s an interesting thought – and truth – even though you can be in the same circumstance as another human being – you both are experiencing it in completely different ways. You’re not thinking the same thoughts, you’re not making the same connections, you’re not experiencing the same experience and so why do we assume to know what the other party is thinking or what they’re going through?
It’s a limiting practice and oftentimes we go into “fixing” mode where again we have the answer and the solution but we might be fixing something that doesn’t need fixing. It’s like those trainings. In the best of intentions I believe he was trying to fix a problem that wasn’t a problem. He was speaking to insecurities never once asking if I felt insecure or overwhelmed. If he had I would have told him that I was excited, eager and that I had a desire to know where to go for more insight and knowledge. I didn’t need to simplify or take things one step at a time. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I was at a point where I wanted to carry more, I wanted to study more.
How often do we do this with the people around us? How many times do we make assumptions about them without pausing to inquire or be curious or even to ask them, “this is what I’m hearing, is this what you mean by that?”
I felt like Hermione in Harry Potter just wanting to learn more and find more resources because I’m in a position to do that and I was being treated like Neville – just take it one step at a time, right? But even I do this same thing sometimes and I regret it afterward that I missed an opportunity to really connect and understand what the other party was experiencing.
I love coaching because it has helped me be ultra curious about people and really wanting to know what they mean by that or what their understanding is. Which is why I love questions so much. Questions aren’t taking sides and they’re certainly not assuming to know. They don’t have to know, their job is to widen the perspective and lens so they can create an environment to invite and house another person’s view into theirs. Does that make sense?
When I ask questions I’m able to try on their thoughts, their perspective and I’m still human with my own understanding so in a sense you broaden out your scope to house your own thoughts and understanding as well as theirs and it’s a really beautiful thing when that happens because you both benefit. You both become the teacher and the student. You both learn and grow together and that forges a connection like no other.
And it’s something that too often we miss because we’re not in the mindset to question. Too often we’re in the mindset to answer.
So I want to offer some suggestions to help you break out of this common habit and pattern so that you can experience the sweet feeling that comes from really understanding and connecting with another human being. It really is a glorious state – and it’s so often what we really want. We want to be seen – really seen. We want to be understood because so often we feel alone in our thoughts because no one understands and it’s not that they don’t understand it’s that they’re not open to the potential of putting themselves in a place to understand.
But when you can get there, that’s where all the magic happens.
So suggestion #1: Don’t answer, just look and listen.
Easier said than done because again you are hardwired to quickly answer back. You are hardwired to not let a moment drop between you and I’m pretty sure it’s gotten worse in today’s day and age when we don’t have to wait for anything – any information. The second we don’t know something we go right to seri or Alexa or google and ask it and instantly we get a response. So the thought of really listening and to listen not to respond can feel uncomfortable at first but it’s something that we can practice and make it a normal habit.
Think about times when you’ve said something to someone and they don’t respond right away. It means something to us. Unless it’s like super weird – like 5 mins of silence pause – that might too long but when it’s a thoughtful, let me think about that pause – we like it. It’s a kind of a compliment even. We tend to make it mean that they’re really listening to us, they want to understand us, they want to see us.
So why do we think we have to respond right then? Practice just listening.
Then suggestion #2: Ask a question. Don’t dive into a narrative or an assumption. Go into remembering that I really don’t and can’t know what they mean by that. I’m not them. I don’t know where they’re going with that so let me ask them.
This isn’t an invitation to stop listening and think of a profound question to ask them. It doesn’t have to be profound. It can be as simple as repeating back to them what they just said but adding an elevated pitch at the end. Taking their phrase and making it into a question by changing the inflection at the end.
For example, In my training I asked what specific recourses were particularly beneficial for them. I love finding new sources to learn from. So instead of diving into a track of, simplify – he could have just repeated what I said, like this: “You want to know what resources I find beneficial?”
Which would open a new dialogue and give more insight into what the other party was really thinking and again, magic. Connection. Understanding.
So look, listen, ask a question. Sometimes it can seem obvious but anytime you make an assumption you miss an opportunity for connection and understanding. Even something as seemingly obvious like when my kids ask to go hang out with a friend. I could just answer and sometimes I still do but I try really hard to ask a question, even repeating back what they said, “You want to go hang out with your friend?” To which they come back and offer me more details on their own – I didn’t have to fish for them oftentimes missing what they’re really excited about. So instead when I ask a question they come back with things like, “yeah, I finished my chores and so in so just got this new whatever and we’re gonna go check it out”
It invites a deeper understanding and an opportunity for them to share more about them and to connect in a way that I would have missed had I just said, “yeah, if your chores are done” right?
We long for connection. We crave it and need it. Connection is the key element in our happiness and overall longevity. But we sever it, we end it prematurely, we never get to that level when we assume things about the other party.
So again, look, listen, question, and the third thing I want you to try on is to question again.
Don’t jump into another assumption, another story, another label. Your brain will resist this. Your primitive, natural man brain will – it doesn’t like to keep things open. It wants to put it in a little box and predict what they mean so you can conserve energy which keeps the human alive. That’s the primitive brains main job -conserve energy and keep the human alive. Which is why we often have duality of options – like this or that, one or two, either or, right or wrong, happy or sad, good or bad, right?
But when we pause for just a moment – again not long. Your amazing brain works quickly – when you pause you can start to see that wait, there’s like 50 options and that’s just what I can see after pausing for 5 seconds. It’s like looking at the night sky. At first if you glance up really quick you’ll see the moon and most likely the north star or Venus even because it’s so bright in the sky. But when you pause for like 5 seconds you start to see stars that you didn’t even notice before.
Pause and be curious. Even if you think you understand. You can ask about that – Put your assumption into a question. Then they have the opportunity to agree and expound or clarify with their perspective and expound. Either way they’re expounding. They’re offering more of their view with you with enlarges your view and creates connection. It’s a really beautiful thing.
So look, Listen, question, question, and then respond. This is the point where you get to connect with them. Before it’s you inviting them to connect with you – to offer more of their perspective with you and now after opening the gates and allowing and inviting them to see that you really want to understand them they’re going to be more receptive to understand you, to want to see you, to hear what you have to say, and to connect with you.
It’s a 5 part practice. Count the steps on your hand. Look and listen is first. I say look because we don’t even offer that at times. We’re distracted, we’re in the middle of things and so we listen in part while our brain is trying to continue with what you’re doing and in turn we don’t really hear what they said entirely. I will tell you I am 100% guilty of this and as a result I miss key details. My husband will tell me, I just said that. “oh whoops!” right? Which you have to admit is frustrated because you don’t feel heard or seen or listened to – you were the afterthought in that moment.
And so stepping back is that what I want to create? We’re always creating something – in your model – Circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions, results – we’re creating something and what do you want to create? Do you want to create a moment where you’re not really present for the person? Do you want to pause and let them know you’re not ready to connect yet? Do you want to pause long enough to look at them and connect?
I have to tell you my kids are getting older. My oldest just graduated and of course my mind is like, you’re on the downhill side of this parenting journey ini this capacity. It used to be like you were in a season which felt like forever – when they were little and all energy and wanting all your time and attention and now they’re more self-reliant, they don’t need me in that capacity as much anymore and I tell you what I notice and I crave their sweet connection. I want to savor it while I have it and we can do this with all the people in our lives – some people are only in our lives for a season – like in a work capacity, or in our callings, or friendships even – most friendships don’t last a lifetime despite what Hallmark would have you believe. They’re there for a season and as you change and grow, they change and grow and it’s beautiful. But knowing that, what do you want to give them? What kind of connection do you want to create?
I tell you what, With this new insight – like I mentioned – time is more limited in this season with my kids. I have made a more intentional effort to be more present and to pause from whatever I’m doing to look, listen, question, question, and respond.
Now I’m not saying every time that’s what you have to do. There are times when I’m working and my mind is on a project and so I can tell them, I’m not in a position to give you my full attention. Can we do this when I’m finished with this? It’s not saying, later – what’s that depressing song? Cat’s cradle? Where the dad is always saying later, later is when we’ll connect? That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about thinking in terms of connection – sometimes that connection needs to be with you and your work or the task at hand. Sometimes you want to choose the other person intentionally.
What changes for you when you can think about it in terms of connection?
It’s really is a game-changer because its not just treating your relationships casually but rather very intentionally with the long term in mind.
We don’t and cannot know what the other party is thinking ever so when we assume we’re severing any kind of connection that could have been. It doesn’t take long and it’s not hard to follow the 5 steps to creating deeper connection:
Remember, follow this on your fingers – 1.) Look 2.) Listen – they really go hand in hand. 3.) question 4.) question 5.) respond
Test this, experiment with this. You know what’s really interesting is that this is a pattern that we see happening in the scriptures a lot from the master teacher, the savior. He rarely ever responds right away. Have you noticed that? He almost always answers with a question.
He doesn’t assume – even though of all people He would be one that probably knows better than anyone else what you mean and what you’re experiencing, but He still invites connection. He wants to hear from you. He wants to give you an opportunity to connect with Him.
In the New Testament, there’s an account of a lawyer, or at that time an interpreter of the law. He asked the Lord what he should do to inherit eternal life.
Now notice the progression:
The Savior listened- I’m going to assume He’s also looking at him but it’s not written so I don’t know but He listened and then he responded with a – you guessed it, a question. He said, “What is written in the law?”
And then He asked another question. Got that? Look, listen, question, question. He said, “how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26).
He didn’t just assume to know, and you know He knew the answer. But he wanted to give this man an opportunity to connect, to speak, to be heard. So the lawyer responds and then the fifth step: The Savior then responds by saying, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:28).
The lawyer already knew but he wasn’t confident in his answer. He wanted validation from the Lord but what means more to you? Getting an answer right away or finding the answer in your own thoughts and connecting to another person?
When my kids ask me a question, when I answer immediately I miss an opportunity to connect with them. It’s more transactional and quickly done and over. But when I pause, look, listen, question, question, and respond we’ve had a dialogue. We’ve made a connection. And it’s a really beautiful thing.
I want this for all of you. You can learn to apply this simple yet powerful practice and pay close attention to how it feels. You will see that it doesn’t take up too much time. I’m not telling you to have long drawn-out everything. It’s still generally really quick but the results are leaps and bounds more powerful and significant than making assumptions and moving on.
5 steps – each finger: Look and Listen, question, question, and respond. Okay my friends, I’ll talk to you all next week!