Written by Executive Director Claire Louge

Human beings make assumptions. That’s just how our brains work.

We take stock of what we’ve experienced and use that to make predictions about what will happen.

Assumptions are useful tools. If we have a gap in information, we’ll fill it with an assumption. We can even make up whole stories with one small piece of information, like a comment or a facial expression. Assumptions help us make quick choices in our fast-paced world.

The problem with assumptions, of course, is that they can be wrong, or partially wrong. And whether they’re wrong or right, assumptions shape how we choose to act towards others. And choices based on false assumptions can be destructive.

Making a false assumption about a colleague could close off the possibility of collaboration. Making a false assumption about a family you’re working with might have you guide them on an unhelpful, or even damaging, path. Making a false assumption about a child’s behavior can lead to unnecessary interventions or discipline. We’ve all personally experienced the short end of someone’s incorrect assumptions. You know false assumptions can be destructive.

So if we naturally make assumptions, how can we prevent them from causing harm?

We stay curious. As long as possible.

Our amazing board president, Rick Griffin, who is a remarkable speaker and trainer, has a saying about this: Be curious, not furious.

Our interpretations, which are guided by our assumptions about what we perceive, shape our thoughts, feelings, and choices. Sometimes, our interpretation of a person’s behavior ticks us off. In this world of divisive politics and high-stakes problems, it’s very easy to be furious. There’s a lot to be furious about.

Which is why curiosity is so important: to prevent unnecessary fury. There is a place for righteous anger, but the energy of our anger is wasted when we’re mad about something we made up in our minds.

Maybe what you’re assuming about a person’s comment or lack of communication, expression or lack of expression, action or inaction, isn’t caused by what you think it is. Maybe you’re right. But chances are, you aren’t entirely right. Before you make a conclusion, can you be curious, just a little longer? Or, if you want to be a particularly courageous and authentic person, can you even share what you’re assuming, and allow them to correct you?

Curiosity is a powerful tool we can wield against bias, which is a pattern of unexamined assumptions. We could save a lot of time and hurt and trouble when we stay curious just a little longer.