Never Assume, Always Ask
Avoid the Assumption-Trap
Photo by Anne Gosewehr
“Two exclamation marks jump into their full stop
They drive along a hyphen
Stop at a question mark to let the exclamation marks go.”
by Lucy H aged 10, Gladstone School, Auckland
Selling Power wrote in one of their recent newsletters: “ Assumptions about other people and what they want or don’t want can wreak havoc on your relationships. This is just as true in your professional life as in your personal life.”
Assuming is accepting something as true without question or proof.
It is easy to do, it is convenient when the truth fits one’s own thinking, it is quick as no time is needed to fact check, it is comfortable as all debate is avoided, and it often happens unconsciously. And because of all that, it is a trap, one that we all fall into way too easily.
Here are a couple of examples from different sales situations:
“ Sales trap: Assume you know what they want.Problem:If you assume that you know what they want or where they are in the sales cycle, then you start asking questions and giving information that may not fit with where they are at. To the customer, it will feel like you are trying to ‘sell’ them, instead of helping them to buy.” (Frances Pratt) You are, in fact, becoming salsey because you are missing a common starting point for the conversation.
“ Like any client segment, high-net-worth (HNW) breadwinners do not like to be taken for granted. Nor do they want an advisor who wastes their time with solutions to problems they don’t have.” (Laura Hanichak Gregg)
“ The prime assumption, that is guaranteed to be wrong,… nearly all the time is: Assuming that the clients know what they want. The truth is… they don’t. Part of being successful at building software is observing the places where if they are wrong and change their mind, … Never assume clients know what they want, always be prepared for them to change their minds.” (Riteek Srivastav)
“ Remember that pitch you gave a couple of years back, where the client was interested in working with you but ended up going in another direction? A shame that they didn’t engage you, but no further action is required on your part. After all, it’s only a matter of time before they have another need to outsource, and they certainly know where to find you, right? Perhaps. But like any assumption, it’s entirely speculative.
It also includes many other potentially erroneous hypotheses: Given our previous interactions, I’ll be first on their list of providers. Their business challenges and decision-makers have not radically changed in two years. They would not welcome a check-in from me after all this time has passed.” (David Ackert)
“ Sales trap: Assume they don’t want you to call. Problem: Sometimes, picking up the phone can feel awkward. You don’t want to bug or stalk them. And when they have questions, they’ll call — Wrong!” ( Frances Pratt)
So, how do we avoid falling into these traps? How do we make sure we are always fully aware of someone else’s’ objectives?
Here are a couple of ideas:
- Ask clarifying questions. Asking questions is powerful, and it has so many positive effects: learning new things, expanding knowledge, teaching us about the people we are with, and of course, providing clarification to avoid incorrect assumptions.
- Establish a common starting point. Make sure you understand the problem and why it is relevant to the person you speak with. If they do not relate, either save your breath or ask questions to determine at least one common denominator first as a starting point for the conversation.
- Ask for more information. There is room to do so without falling prey to Analysis Paralysis. Replace some of the assumptions with facts.
- Ask why. Children play this game of endlessly asking ‘why.’ This needs to be rewarded in business, not discouraged, as it leads an organization to a deeper understanding, and possibly the realization that the assumption was wrong.
- Challenge yourself. Seek out second (and third and fourth) opinions about key assumptions for critical decisions: Create a questioning environment and foster a situation in which all stakeholders are encouraged to question assumptions.
- Be the devil’s advocate. Purposely change your assumptions and replace them with assumptions on the negative side; so that the outcome looks distinctively different.
- Openly identify inconsistencies. Honesty, openness, directness, … these are all great personality traits to avoid the assumption trap.
Laura Hanichak Gregg — Avoid the ‘Assumption Trap’ With Your High-Net-Worth Clients
Riteek Srivastav — The Trap of Assumptions
David Ackert — How to Escape the Assumption Trap
Frances Pratt — Sales Trap: Don’t Assume
Originally published at https://www.vendux.org on August 11, 2020.