People make assumptions all the time.  We assume we heard someone correctly; we assume we understand exactly what they meant; we assume that it is all about us, all about them, etc.  Communication blunders can be attributed to one thing.  Our assumptions.

The easiest and most efficient way to counteract this risk is to simply ask for clarification and test your understanding of what you just “heard.”  This could be as simple as “Did you mean ________?” or “When you said___________ I heard this as ______________ ; was that your intention?”  You get the picture.  However, practically speaking we cannot take the time to test our understanding of every thing every person says to us.  Our conversations would sound crazy and we’d never get anything done.  Sometimes it is not necessary and/or convenient to stop and test out our assumptions.

So when should we take the time to test our understandings and assumptions?  Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  1. Anytime you have a strong reaction to what someone is saying.  Your emotional response is a good indicator that you may be making assumptions that aren’t true.  If they turn out to be correct, then you’ll need to decide how best to respond.
  2. When you are having trouble understanding or hearing what someone has said and you know that they are asking you to do something.  Don’t assume that you know what they want you to do if you haven’t heard what they said.  Politely ask them to repeat their request.
  3. When someone is giving you important directions and/or information that you need to know or act on.  The more important the content, the more important it is to take the time and test your understanding.
  4. Anytime you have judged someone harshly based on what they just said.  If you have concluded that someone is a jerk, a racist, a sociopath, a liar, etc., it might just be worth your while to test out those assumptions.  You wouldn’t want to destroy a relationship or someone’s reputation over a misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

Misunderstandings happen all the time.  Some may be unavoidable, but many are not.  Becoming skilled at knowing when to test out your assumptions can save you a lot of energy, time, and angst.

Be well,


Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery

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