Assumptions Are the Worst Enemy to Building Trust in the Office

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  • August 17, 2016
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assumptions

“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

       – Alan Alda

We all want to work in an environment that fosters trust, openness and good relationships; that’s how the best companies retain top talent and foster strong teams in the workplace.

In 2010, Deloitte LLP conducted an Ethics & Workplace survey, which showed the following:

  • 30% of American employees plan to look for a new job when the economy turns around.
  • 48% of the group mentioned above cite a loss of trust in their employer as the reason.
  • 65% of Fortune 1000 executives believe trust will be a factor in voluntary employee turnover in the near future.

In fact, according to research conducted by Dennis Reina and Michelle Reina, “90% of employees report they feel the effects of eroded trust daily.”1

The biggest barrier I see to achieving trust in the workplace is our human tendency toward making assumptions. There will always be errors and disappointment when we operate based on assumptions, because we can never really know what other people are thinking unless we ask them.


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Tweet: There will always be errors and disappointment when we operate based on assumptions.


How many times have we made an assumption about how others think or feel about us, only to find out later we were completely wrong? Or how many times have we made an assumption about a certain project that the team was working on, only to work for hours in one direction to find out something completely different was asked of us?

Fortunately, when the office environment fosters openness and encourages employees to speak up and ask questions, many assumptions and potential conflicts can be sidestepped (and if you’d like to uncover ways you can become a better leader and improve your ability to sidestep assumptions in the workplace, click HERE.

Heads Up if You’re Working on a New Team

Recently, I wrote about my experience working with a Japanese-American team that was based in the United States. Since this team was brand new, there were many opportunities for assumptions to be made that could derail even the best attempts at turning the team into a cohesive unit.

If you’re working with a new team or if you know that your group of peers is multicultural, keep a sharp eye for assumptions being made on both ends. Don’t assume that you know what the other people are thinking or expect of you. Instead, ask!

Ask the Questions You’re Really Thinking About

Especially with new teams or multicultural teams, people are afraid to offend their colleagues. This makes us more likely to shake off a weird feeling or an uncomfortable moment and tell ourselves, “Oh, it’s nothing!”

Not paying attention to these signals will do more harm in the long run than simply asking the question you’re really mulling over in your mind.


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Tweet: Ignoring your gut feelings in the workplace will do more harm in the long run than openly communicating.


Suppose that, by asking the question, you do inadvertently offend the other person. Now you have the opportunity to express those feelings and move forward together. That’s a much better situation to be in than allowing those strange feelings to fester and grow until you feel completely uncomfortable around the other person.

Express Your Feelings

In the same way, when someone else communicates with you, notice how you’re feeling. If you feel uncomfortable, offended, upset, sad, disappointed or even happy or grateful… express it. It’s okay to express how you feel as long as it is in a respectful manner.

When you do, you’re offering your colleague an opportunity to get to know you (each other) better. Your chances of fostering a long-lasting, trusting relationship increase when you’re open about your boundaries and comfort levels.


It’s true that sometimes it’s difficult to express our emotions in the workplace, especially depending on your background and culture. However, keeping in mind that the goal of your organization is to function optimally, it is imperative to open up and share your boundaries and your responses to others’ actions. Operating under assumptions doesn’t yield good outcomes.

Can you see yourself working through these blocks in assumption and expectation? Click HERE for further resources on how to strengthen your ability to clearly communicate in the office.

Sources:

  1. Michele O’Donnell. “Building Trust in the Workplace.” Talent Culture, World of Work. TalentCulture.com. 19 August 2014. Web 3 March 2016.
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