Testing Assumptions in a Difficult Conversation

It’s often someone’s behaviour that triggers a conflict or difficulty between two people, now that might be true initially but it’s the assumptions and inferences that circulate in our minds that makes the situation difficult to address. In this post I’m going to describe how we make sense of someone else’s behaviour, why our assumptions and inferences can be problematic and share a strategy to help guide you safely through this delicate part of your story.

Positioning Your Assumptions in a Difficult Conversation

This is the third and final component to complete your story, you’ll need this in order to present your side of the story effectively when you’re  having your difficult conversation.

Stories About Intent

When someone does or says something that has a negative impact on us we end up creating a story in our mind to explain to ourselves why they did what they did. This is a normal and healthy function, it’s called making an assumption. We make assumptions all the time but the one’s that cause the most problems are those about motives and intention.

Unfortunately when things negatively affect us, we lose a generosity of spirit, a benefit of the doubt. Instead we assume intent to be driven by malice or some self-serving motivation and to some degree I think it’s OK to make those assumptions. The problem is we tend to act on those assumptions as if they were true, rather than act on what they are – our untested version of the truth.

Testing Assumptions

So if we’re acting on untested assumptions then there’s a good chance that we are contributing in some way to the problem – that’s my view. I see it as my responsibility to test my own assumptions and so should you. Because if I test my own assumptions and I’m genuinely open to the possibility that my assumptions might be wrong (which 98% of the time they are), then I create the opportunity to have a difficult conversation that helps me learn about someone’s motives and for them to learn about how their behaviours are interpreted by others.

This is about shifting our away from winning the conversation to learning from the conversation.

So when you get your chance to tell your story in a difficult conversation rather than say something like…

‘when you called me an idiot, I felt really angry because you always try to belittle me in front      of others…’,

you could say something like…

‘when you called me an idiot, I felt really angry because it made me think you wanted to make me feel small in front others, I might be wrong about that but that’s what I thought…’

Treat your assumptions as hypotheses to be tested and sprinkle a little generosity of spirit over the top when you share your thoughts with the other person. I guarantee you will invite a compassionate response and open the conversation up to learning about how you and others think.

To learn more about Difficult Conversations click this link : Difficult Conversations

Please do leave your comments or questions below, I do read and reply to every single one. Thank you in advance!

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