Assumptions and expectations, how to screw everything

I assume you are reading this post because you assume it might be a good one, so you expect to find out some interesting things and you assume you will not waste your time. So you might just be wasting your time reading this, only because you assume it might be good. Why do you do that? Because you know me and I’m a good gal? Because usually I say funny things? Yes, it can be, but you have no idea how I write or that I write. Isn’t it? So you based your assumptions on unreliable information in the current context 😉 How often do we do that?

I will not talk here about project assumptions, we got burned so many times with those that now we chase them, track them and state them clearly. I am talking here about behavioral assumptions and the expectations we get everyday from them.

I have a basic example that I live everyday: I am half of my mum’s genes. I assume that being her daughter we think and act similar, I expect her to understand me, so when I talk to her I give her information as if she would already thought at the same things as me.

Imagine this:

Me: I will go in summer holiday only 1 week this year.

Mum: Why? Are you out of money?

Hmm, not something I would have thought at!

Now imagine this:

Me: Summer is a very busy period at the office. I have a lot of work. I was thinking to take only 1 week holiday in the summer.

Mum: Oh, you poor thing!

HA!!! Correct answer!

Now, if this does not work with your own relatives, why would it work with anybody around you? Maybe a golden rule to kill assumptions when we communicate is to not assume the other one knows all that is in our head. We tend to shortcut our communication and say only the conclusions, not the path that we walked to get there. Communications is not a tweet, it needs more then 150 characters to get you understood!

Daily, we make assumptions using the information that we have, past and current one, based on our history and our experiences. I guess that this is part of our evolution and survival. (I assume the lion is hungry, so I expect it to eat me, so I run… A very good thing to do!)  Also, I wonder if we would not make assumption how would our brain cope with constantly trying to understand and reshape the universe around.

Yes, we are at the point where I am saying: Assumptions are natural and not that bad!

But, are they good at work?

This is an example of how assumptions and expectations will screw you:

You get a senior developer into your team. You never worked with him again, but because he is a senior you assume he does the things that are expected from a senior. Things like: technical excellence, quality orientation, help to improve the project, even role modeling behavior.  As your expectations are pretty clear and are connected to what you assume all projects would expect from a senior, you do not communicate them further. Also, as he is a senior you assume he does not need close monitoring. You just drop him in the project and see how it works.

Then you find out he is a technical senior, but has no idea how to work in the team, he does not want to help improve the project and he is focused only on his own tasks. It will take you around 1-2 months to see this, because as you assumed he already knows all these you did not look closely and daily into what he is doing.

Now, what can be done?

1. Do not assume when you have no basis of assumption. Look into the context and see if an assumption would be fine or not. Sometimes we assume and we consciously take the risk of doing that and that is just fine.

2. Talk and state expectations. There is also a trap here. The higher we think of somebody we tend to make our expectations high level, ie: I expect you raise the quality of the product. What is that for you and what is that for the other party? Do you think of the same things, do you translate this into the same actions? Why not just give examples or make clearer expectations, ie: I think we have issues in the quality area, I want you to check the quality of the code and the practices…..

3. Look daily if the expectations were understood and applied. Ask for some insight into how the other person is going to fulfill the agreement.

4. Re-state expectations, as they might change along with the context.

Usually these steps save me a lot of times. The pain is that it also takes a lot of time 😉

Disclaimer:

The huge amount of times I used assume and expect was intended and assumed!
The source of this post is an assumption I make a lot of times and that just screwed me a few days ago: I assume if nobody is complaining then all is going good!

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