Donna recently attended a joyful party to celebrate her mother’s 95th birthday. While visiting, she found her mother’s original baby book among some of the family treasures. As she picked up the book, her mom’s birth announcement fell out. Donna was puzzled to see a blue ribbon tied to her mother’s card, so she asked: “Mom, why is a blue ribbon tied to your birth announcement card?” Her mom chuckled, “When I was born, 95 years ago, blue was for girls and pink was for boys.”
Donna thought her mother was joking, because she had always assumed that, when it came to baby announcements in the U.S., pink was for girls and blue for boys.
Donna quickly used her phone to search Google and found this statement:
Ladies’ Home Journal article in June 1918 said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue is delicate and dainty and prettier for the girl.”
Donna looked at her phone, totally stunned. Her assumption about birth announcement colors was turned upside-down.
Have you ever assumed a truth you thought everyone believed, but suddenly you discovered it’s not truth at all – just an unexamined assumption? That’s what happened to Donna in those few minutes after finding her mom’s birth announcement.
Donna immediately thought of a catchphrase often used in our workshops: “challenge your assumptions.”
Unexamined assumptions can close your mind and heart to new possibilities and can push you into black-or-white thinking. The risk is that you will become an advocate for a point-of-view or position that may be built upon faulty, outdated, or even false information.
It is difficult to challenge your assumptions unless you become aware of them. So, commit yourself to the practice of identifying assumptions, both your own and those of your team or even your organization. Families also adopt assumptions, which sometimes can be the most rigid and difficult to challenge because of cultural or family history.
Once you identify an assumption to challenge, you can take one of three actions:
- You can reaffirm it as still valid;
- You can revise it to match current reality, or
- You can let go and “retire” it, as it no longer serves a purpose.
Challenging your assumptions begins with pausing and asking yourself, “What assumption have I made as it relates to……..(fill in the blank)?” This will help reveal your hidden assumption. Pealing back the layers to reveal underlying assumptions can be a liberating experience.
When working with others, challenge assumptions with kindness and compassion. Assumptions strongly held by others can seem like “truth” to them. Avoid challenging assumptions with a “you are wrong” tone, which will cause defensiveness (and you’ll be perceived as a Persecutor!).
Instead, experiment with nonjudgmental language as you challenge. Here are three suggestions of what you might say:
- “Help me to understand what assumptions you are making?”
- “I want to understand your point-of-view and I think I am missing something. What assumptions are you making?”
- “Can we take a step back and look at what assumptions you are making and the ones I am making? I’d like to make sure we are on the same page.”
Like Donna, you may discover assumptions you or the other have adopted as “truth.”
And, as Donna and David plan for the arrival of their first grandchild, due in mid-October, pink, blue, and all colors may be on the future changing table!