Thursday, October 19, 2006
How Faulty Assumptions Can Spoil Relationships
At any rate, it's certainly true that failing to verify what appears to be obvious could mean a lot of hard work and initiative simply going down the drain. Sometimes, it can be the direct cause of your face going redder than a beetroot. And sadder still, the end result of your blunder could be soured interpersonal relationships.
Our contributor Lora Adrianse tells the sad story of Amy, a concierge at a leading hotel who was asked by a guest to buy for him 10 tickets to a local concert he badly wanted to attend. There was one small problem: the concert was already sold out, but Amy, who had a reputation for "pulling rabbits out of hats" assured the guest she would spare no effort to obtain the coveted tickets. And against all odds, she succeeded.
But then the picnic started. For some reason, she was unable to reach the guest to tell him she had the tickets, and she was about to go off duty. So she turned the task over to the usually reliable desk manager - assuming the matter was now in good hands. The desk manager was also unable to reach the guest, but wasn't unduly concerned because he assumed the guest would stop by and enquire about the tickets. The guest, in turn, assumed Amy had been unsuccessful and made other arrangements for the evening.
So here we have three people making unwarranted assumptions, and the damage to Amy's reputation aside, the worst thing, from the human perspective, was that relations between Amy and the desk manger were extremely strained from that point on.
On the Net recently I came across another little story that shows more directly how mistaken (even if very understandable) assumptions can negatively impact a relationship.
Maxine was telling Tom about a problem she had at work. She was halfway through the story when Tom interrupted, saying: "What you should do, Maxine, is talk with your supervisor and turn the whole matter over to her. She's the one who should be dealing with this problem."
Did Maxine thank Tom for his timely counsel? Far from it, she walked away in anger, leaving behind a very puzzled Tom.
The author of this piece, Illene L. Dillon, cites gender communication expert Deborah Tannen as explaining that our two protagonists acted characteristically, reflecting differences in the way men and women communicate. Women offer "troubles talk", sharing their difficulties as a way of building relationships; men are "problem solvers", offering immediate solutions so the problem can be solved and left behind.
But Dillon correctly adds that this explanation, though a good one, doesn't go far enough. The bottom line, she writes, is that there is a clearly defined "relationship violation" here that triggered Maxine's angry reaction. What was it?
It's only natural that decent people should like to help others, all the more so those whom they love and respect. Often, they feel very frustrated if their help is spurned. What they forget is a simple principle: "Help that isn't asked for never works."
Giving Maxine help she did not ask for created anger and disappointment, not receptivity. This doesn't mean that we should abandon our efforts to help. Rather, instead of relying on assumptions, however logical they may be in our own eyes, we should enquire whether our help is wanted.
Of course, Maxine, for her part, was guilty of an equally serious relationship error. Most people don't know what goes on in another's head, despite the apparently common assumption that love is proved through mindreading! Maxine should tell Tom: "I want you to listen to a story from work- and I really mean listen, without telling me how I should be handling the situation? Will you do that please?"
And by tagging on that little question at the end, she will be avoiding perpetuating a third common relationship error based on a possibly mistaken assumption - the assumption that the other party will comply with a request merely because he or she was asked.