What Do You Assume?

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. My rollator and I are seeing the world.

One question I hear a lot is “May I help you?” That question is often followed by someone grabbing the top bar of my rollator to “help” me up a ramp, or yanking the rollator open instead of using the easy-to-flip latch.

People mean well. They don’t realize the physics or how the rollator works. (For explanation, the top bar is a back support. No matter how hard you yank, the bar does not lift the rollator. And, the latch-flipping allows me to open and close the rollator quite easily. When people yank it open, the wrong side separates. Then I can’t fold the rollator and latch it closed.)

It’s a problem. I look like a LOL (little old lady) until people see me walk with my rollator. I have a terrific long stride. (Okay, long for me.) I move pretty fast when I’m not worried about falling over.

People see me and jump to a conclusion about my state. They see me and make assumptions. It’s natural.

That happens at work and in life for you, too.

A number of my clients have managers who proclaim, “You have too many meetings.” Maybe the teams and project/program managers do. And, maybe, just maybe, these people need to meet in order to determine how to solve problems, what to do next, or just because they want to connect.

Software product development is a collaborative game. So is much of life. We need to talk with other people to accomplish the work. If you assume that the meetings are not productive, that the information flows from one person “down” to other people—not around people, you might have a different assumption about the usefulness of meetings.

One way to surface assumptions is to change the question. Instead of “May I help you?” consider “How may I help you?” Instead of “You have too many meetings,” consider “How do your meetings add value?”

When you ask “How” in front of your assumption, you allow for other possibilities.

When someone asks, “How may I help you?” I can explain what I need. I might say, “No thanks, I’m fine.” Or, I might say, “I’m having a little trouble with this thing. Can you do…”

When someone asks, “How do your meetings add value?” you can say, “We use this meeting to prepare for next week’s work. We use that meeting to commit to each other. We use this other meeting to improve.” (BTW, separating the meetings and not trying to have all one big meeting helps people prepare for the goal of one specific meeting.)

We all assume things about people or work. Our assumptions are often wrong. That’s okay. If we allow for the possibility that the assumptions are wrong, we can choose another approach.

Dear adaptable leaders, that is the question this week: What do you assume?

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