Category Archives: Assume Nothing

WARNING: MAKING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO IS POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS — PART 2

We shouldn't make assumptions before opening our mouths.
Photo: Geralt

Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness. — Marshall McLuhan

In Part 1, I explained that from an early age, I was warned by my parents, both experienced in the business world and beyond, that one of the worst things I could do was make assumptions about who people were or their place in society.

As I said before, both parents made it clear that the way to avoid making assumptions about others is to treat everyone with impartiality and respect.

Using anecdotes, both parents often drove home the point that making assumptions could lead to all sorts of bad things — from hurt feeling to unintended consequences.

Here’s one of my Dad’s stories (with a name change, of course):

Back in the day, department stores were really like a “mall” is today in terms of the diversity of merchandise sold, but housed in one multi-story building, complete with the ubiquitous “tea room.”

Specialty departments were really like the separate stores that you see in malls today, but all under the same corporate ownership. You could find just about anything you could imagine under one roof — sporting goods, furniture, house wares, luggage, sewing notions, toys — you name it, there was a department for it, each with their own merchandise buyer.

Departmental buyers met regularly with salesmen representing various manufacturers and much showmanship and flourish went into the presentation of new sample items, pictures, catalogs, and brochures. No PowerPoint here, just hands-on theatrics, and ‘good ol’ boy’ camaraderie. In fact, most of the manufacturer’s “reps” were well liked and their visits constituted an occasion.

But not always.

In one particular department store, there was one salesman who really got on everybody’s nerves, every time he visited, even if they didn’t deal with him directly. This guy was always way too loud, obnoxiously know-it-all, and chronically sloppy with his paperwork. Because his products sold well, he was begrudgingly tolerated.

And so, one exceedingly busy afternoon, after many coffees, this hotshot was, so he thought, charming the socks off the furniture buyer when he was suddenly seized with an urgent nature call.

He excused himself to attend to his situation only to find that it wasn’t just the store that was busy, but all the public restrooms were busy as well. Hurriedly he returned to the buyer, explained his dilemma, and the buyer kindly handed him the key to the private, “executive” washroom.

Newly refreshed, the salesman was washing his hands when a very thoughtful older gentleman, of modest dress and comportment, handed him a fresh towel with which to dry his hands. By way of reward, the salesman hastily gave the old gentleman a quarter for his services, and the older man thanked the salesman appreciatively.

Later, as the salesman was getting on the elevator to leave, he remarked to the furniture buyer, “That’s a nice old fella who services the executive restroom.” Other buyers were also within earshot, and all the men quickly exchanged amused glances with one another, barely able to keep from laughing right out loud.

But, sometimes an inflated ego needs a good pin-pricking, and not able to resist, the buyers felt it incumbent upon themselves to explain to the salesman that the “nice ol’ fella” was none other than Mr. Edwin T. Wilson, the multimillionaire owner/president of the store.

It goes without saying that had the salesman avoided making assumptions in the first place, he would have avoided public embarrassment later. It also goes without saying, that such an incident could end in worse consequences — the loss of a job among them.

Please share your thoughts on the dangers of making assumptions in the Comments section below.

In the meantime,

Bestest to all,Cynthia Dalton signature

 

 

WARNING: MAKING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO IS POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS — PART 1

We shouldn't make assumptions before opening our mouths.
Photo: Eddie Fouse

You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions. — Denis Waitley

From an early age, I was warned by my parents, both of whom had a great deal of experience in the business world and otherwise, that one of the worst things I could do was make assumptions about who people were or their place in society.

Both parents made it clear that we’re all part of the human family, and we’re all in this thing called life together, and that making assumptions could lead to all sorts of bad things — from hurt feeling to unintended consequences.

My parents also made it clear that the way to avoid making assumptions about others is to treat everyone with impartiality and respect.

OK, I’ll admit, I’m not talking about blindly respecting known creeps and jerks. The best thing to do with that sort is to stir clear of them, if at all possible.

What I am talking about is ditching the kind of hierarchical thinking that puts men before women, CEOs ahead of receptionists, and owners in front of renters, in terms of our perception of their value both to us personally, and to society at large.

Mom and Dad told me a lot of stories to illustrate how people make assumptions.

Here’s one of my Mom’s favorite stories:

In spite of an important position on a Midwestern Supreme Court my Mom’s great-grandfather (a.k.a. “The Judge”) and his wife (a.k.a. “Mother”) preferred the quiet, rural tranquility of their modest farm.

One hot summer afternoon, as the Judge worked peacefully in his vegetable patch below a bright blue and cloudless sky, his wiry beard glistening with beads of perspiration and his overalls caked with mud, a lone traveler on foot made his way to the back porch of the farmhouse where Mother was shucking corn.

“Ma’am, I’m awful hungry, could you spare me some food?” he inquired. It wasn’t Mother’s way to give handouts. She believed people should earn their way through life, and eyeing the stranger over her spectacles, gestured with a nod of her head to the side yard and said, “I’d be happy to as soon as you cut a goodly amount of that wood over there.”

The stranger was taken aback, but stiffly complied. Soon he returned to the porch ready for his supper. Mother spied the pitiful amount of wood chopped and told the man in no uncertain terms that there would have to be far more wood chopped before he’d get any food.

Again he complied, and cut just enough additional wood to satisfy Mother. He was rewarded with pot roast and gravy, corn on the cob, steaming green beans, and hot country biscuits slathered with fresh-churned butter.

The man ate his dinner fast, and with gusto. As he hastily departed Mother’s kitchen, the man thanked Mother profusely for the meal, and spied a shortcut to the road through the garden.

In the garden he came upon The Judge, and curious to find out this gardener’s story, walked up to The Judge and asked, “How long have you been workin’ here?” The Judge, who had gotten the gist of what was going on out of the corner of his eye, responded wryly, “Oh, nigh-on to twenty years.” The stranger replied, “You’ve lasted that long here? Mister, my hat’s off to you!” And, pointing to the farmhouse with his sauce-stained thumb further exclaimed, “That old lady up there sure is hell, ain’t she?”

Happily for the stranger, there’s no record of his ever having come before The Judge in any subsequent court case. I am sure though, that had such an occasion arisen my great-great-grandfather would have been scrupulously fair.

Light-hearted though this particular story is, avoiding making assumptions in the first place, ipso facto avoids any negative fallout later.

Please share your thoughts on the dangers of making assumptions in the Comments section below.

In the meantime,

Bestest to all, Cynthia Dalton signature