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9 Reasons Why Making Assumptions is Dangerous

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Why assumptions start

It’s easy to make assumptions. All you need is incomplete information about a situation. And an unwillingness to ask the questions you need to complete the information. In the absence of complete information, you have to fill in the blanks yourself.

You fill in the blanks with YOUR interpretation of what you see or hear. Your interpretation comes from past experiences that seem similar. It comes from your past experiences, and also from those you’ve heard about from others.

Armed with your information, you connect dots that aren’t there. You can’t help doing this because you’re missing relevant information. In trying to make sense of the situation, you make connections between today and the past. Connections that don’t really exist. You jump to conclusions that are wrong.

How assumptions develop

If assumptions are incorrect when dealing with rational matters, ponder this. What happens when emotions come into play?

All hell breaks loose. You see, emotions arrive with many sensitive buttons. These buttons are the places where you got hurt in the past. Your memory has stored this past pain. And activates it whenever your nervous system recognizes anything that feels painfully familiar.

Once activated, you react as if you’re experiencing that same pain again. Your old pain feels as real today as it did when you got hurt. Your present situation doesn’t even need to be the same as the past one that hurt you.

When those emotional buttons get pressed, the resulting dot-connecting is rarely kind. The assumptions you make in this state have one thing in mind. Lashing out in some way. To repel or hurt someone with unkind and disrespectful words presented as fact.

What assumptions do

Behind these harsh words lie the original hurt. And an unwillingness to step up and own your part in it.

This is toxic for the people you’re lashing out at, and for you. The negative energy expressed with this can take a toll on health. Theirs and yours. And by pressing your pain buttons again and again, you deepen your hurt.

In our internal Lean training at Specialized Staffing Solutions, we employ the mantra “Assume Positive Intentions” when filling in the blanks during interactions between clients, associates and co-workers.

It helps avoid all these pitfalls:

1. They’re an easy out. The path of least resistance is also the path of least growth.

2. They stop you from taking responsibility for your life. Assumptions allow you to hide behind your version of the story. This means you don’t own your part in the true story. You prefer to blame others for your misfortune, rather than look in the mirror.

3. They keep you stuck in the past. Assumptions rely on old information to fill in blanks and connect dots. Instead of expanding your horizons, you retreat into the past. Into your painful past.

4. It’s lazy behavior. Instead of asking questions to get the information you need, you jump to conclusions.

5. They foster a negative mindset. Most assumptions are derived from old, painful information. This reinforces your innate negativity bias that dates back to prehistoric times. And keeps you thinking the world is a fundamentally hostile place.

6. It’s toxic behavior. To protect yourself from more hurt, you use your assumptions to lash out at others. This is bad for them, and you.

7. They become a bad habit. The more you make assumptions, the easier it is to continue making them. You find it easier to relive past hurts to get missing information than to ask questions. Go figure!

8. They deepen your pain. The more you pick at a sore, the more painful it gets. And it doesn’t get a chance to heal.

9. Assumptions are ALWAYS wrong. I have a perfect record with the assumptions I’ve made. 100% of them have been wrong. And it’s hard to believe that I’m unique in this.

How Successful People Deal with Rejection at Work

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The Lifestyle/Workstyle website, lifehacker.com, spends a lot of time on work/social/spending trends in its everyday publication. Every quarter or so, they’ll take one week and do a deep dive on a subject matter and attack it from different angles with perspectives from different contributing writers. Last month, the sited devoted a week to the subject of rejection: from relationships, to banks, to schools/institutions and of course, in professional life.

They chose to get input from professionals from diverse fields on how they cope with rejection:

Anjali Bhimani, actress:

As an actress, the question is more “What ISN’T a kind of rejection you face at your job?” because rejection probably comes up in one form or another on a daily basis, and it’s often not very kindly conveyed.

Just because someone else thinks I’m too this or that or not enough this or that doesn’t mean it’s a categorical truth.

For me personally, one of the best ways to handle it (even though it doesn’t completely take away the disappointment if it’s a job I really wanted) is to make sure that I am not adding to the rejection by rejecting myself. It’s very easy, especially as an artist, to take it personally when they don’t want you for a role and it’s vital for me to always remember to be kind to myself and not internalize the feedback if it’s not useful criticism. Especially when it’s just plain wrong (for example, when a casting director said I wasn’t hired because of my “Indian intonation” when I was speaking with my born-and-raised American voice). Just because someone else thinks I’m too this or that or not enough this or that doesn’t mean it’s a categorical truth, and more often than not I know there are other considerations/forces at play that I know nothing about.

Sometimes a rejection for one job just means the people in the room liked me but couldn’t use me here, and they end up bringing me back for something else. So the most important thing for me to be able to push past each one is to be my own champion on the inside and be kind to myself and compassionate to the people who are also trying so hard to do their job by casting who they think is right for the role, so that what comes at me from the outside doesn’t get into my head. The feedback isn’t so much about me as a human being as me as a particular product that may or may not be appropriate for the buyer at this time. It still hurts sometimes, but not nearly as much as it did early on in my career when I would think it was a referendum on my talent, my career, or my entire being.

Ben Ho, behavioral economist:

I remind myself about the social science research that most success in life is driven by luck.

As academics so much of your career depends on getting papers accepted at top journals and what you don’t see on someone’s C.V. (academic résumé) is all the rejection letters they got along the way. Getting tenure really just requires getting acceptance letters from 5 or 6 of the right journals in 6 years. The top journals have acceptance rates in the single digits. It’s normal to get dozens of rejections along the way.

A very typical response to rejection is to hide from it. That’s the #1 mistake that junior faculty make. We always have so much else to do with other projects and teaching that it’s easy just to leave that rejection email unopened, or leave the printout buried under a pile of stuff on your desk. The best advice I try to give to junior faculty is to fix what you can from the feedback in the letters and resubmit it to another journal it as soon as possible. It’s very easy to let these things slide for 6 months or a year. That is a mistake.

That doesn’t make the pain go away. For that, I remind myself about the social science research that most success in life is driven by luck (see work by two of my former colleagues: Bob Frank’s recent book on luck, as well as Tom Gillovich’s excellent recent paper on tailwinds and headwinds). It’s easy to see a rejection as an attack on your self worth. I try not to. Most importantly, I remind myself that my kids will never know or care what’s on my C.V. and they are what’s most important anyway.

Oh and Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”

Morra Aarons-Mele, author and business consultant:

I own a professional services business and sell for a living, so I get rejected about once a week: when a potential client decides not to hire my firm, chooses another firm, or (and this is the worst) decides not to extend a contract.

I have been doing this work for over 20 years, with many wins along the way, but every time a potential client chooses someone else, I take it personally. Worse, though, is that I might assume that one rejection signals very bad news for my business. I catastrophize and blow things way out of proportion.

So I practice visualizing abundance, not scarcity, and it really helps me keep things in proportion.

I tell myself: “There’s always more pie.” Scarcity is fighting over one tiny sliver of pie—because that’s all you feel you deserve. Lose that one piece, and no pie for you!

People who come from abundance don’t let a “no” disturb the solid inner core of who they are. There’s always more pie! They encounter a “no,” and assume a “yes” is just around the corner.

So the next time a “no” sends you questioning the viability of your entire financial future or existence, brush it off. Instead of dwelling on the no, force yourself to be generous and expansive. See a beautiful, freshly baked pie in your mind and tell yourself, “That’s okay. There’s plenty more.”

Jamia Wilson, Press director:

I deal with rejection often as a non-profit executive director in a competitive fundraising landscape, as a writer who pitches my work to magazines, agents, and editors, and as a publisher who seeks to sign authors who are often weighing options with other presses.

Although it may sound like a platitude when you’re in the midst of repairing your ego in the face of a letdown, rejection can be a form of protection from something that isn’t in alignment with your purpose or journey during a specific moment in time. Rejection helps me clarify where to spend my time and energy. It allows me to focus on opportunities and relationships that prioritize my values and strengths.

So, the one thing in common with all these top performers is: Successful people don’t learn to avoid rejection, but to deal with it, learn from it, and even turn it into a new opportunity.

Streamline Your Workflow by Assigning Tasks to Days of the Week

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Switching between a number of different tasks during the day can make it hard to focus, and can make completing those tasks harder than they need to be. Instead of shifting your focus back and forth during the day, try and dedicate specific days to specific tasks. It’s an idea called context switching as outlined by Fast Company in their February 15th post.

The idea is simple: Rather than shift your focus throughout the day, group together similar tasks so that you can streaming completing them. In Fast Company’s example, a business owner used the first two weeks of the month to meet with new clients and the last two to work with VIPs.

The idea is simple: Rather than shift your focus throughout the day, group together similar tasks so that you can streaming completing them

What makes sense depends on your personal job responsibilities and workflow. Breaking things down has a ton of benefits. Two big ones:

You always know what you’re working on. Rather than juggling five plates Monday morning, you can start the week knowing “today I’m handling new proposals” or whatever the thing is you’ve assigned yourself.

You don’t end up with “hell” days crammed full of unrelated things, only to have a day at end of the week where you’re surfing Facebook.

You don’t have to constantly change your focus during the day, allowing you to really focus on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Clearly, this won’t work for all job types, and how you break things up will depend a lot on what you do. While some people might be able to dedicate entire days to projects, for you, context switching might mean just dedicating your afternoons to a specific task each day while leaving your mornings a multi-tasking adventure, or blocking out a few hours for specific tasks each day.

The more like tasks you’re able to lump together, the easier the group of them will likely become.