Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Are You Avoiding Dangerous Assumptions?

Our brains are formatted to detect patterns, and we often make assumptions to fulfill our desire to make sense of what find them everywhere. Still, assumptions can be dangerous. They can severely damage our relationships with others, in both personal and professional settings.

We make assumptions in our workplaces all the time, and some of them are costing us customers, business, and employee productivity.

Assumptions can lead to us to misunderstandings, conflict, or thinking someone is not a good prospect for our business. Misunderstandings and miscommunication are estimated to cost US businesses, those with over 100,000 employees, a whopping $62.4 million per year. For companies with less than 100 employees, the cost of poor communication is still high at $420,000 per year.

Assumptions can also lead to conflict. No one wants more conflict work. While some conflict contributes to the creative destruction process, needless conflict is the last thing you want when it comes to a well-functioning working community. How can leaders reinforce their commitment to avoiding assumptions about employees and coworkers?

Avoid Stereotyping

Stereotyping is the downfall of many leaders, both in the business world and the public eye. Much more than any other type of political mishap, assumptions that lead from stereotyping have affected hundreds of celebrities, politicians and companies alike. It’s easy to fall prey, but you must do your best to avoid this situation.

If you stereotype your employees, you’re putting them into convenient boxes that are never accurate. You won’t know the true potential of your employees, and thus you’ll limit the abilities of your business as a whole. Far better to keep an open mind and learn new things about the people you work with than assume you know the best of their capabilities and underperform down the road.

For example, assuming that a recently pregnant woman will immediately take sick leave is potentially harmful to both your employee and your company. The Financial Post describes this exact situation, in light of which the former employee, Holly Graham, pressed charges due to mutual misunderstanding. It’s important to communicate with your employees regarding delicate matters like this one and not to make any conclusions without first confirming with the employee.

Decision Making Matters

As Wesst says, decision making requires good information. There’s only one foolproof method by which to grow your business to its highest potential, and it’s done by making sure all of your information regarding a practice is verified. It’s important to learn all that you can about your employees and to be positive that you’re aware of all aspects of your employees’ professional experience. Who knows, you might be surprised at how competent your people can be!

In the interests of hiring new employees, it’s important to verify skill sets and to ask any questions you may have. Rather than glancing over a couple of resumes, go through each applicant individually. This area is important to double-check with the applicants; if a resume sounds too good to be true, you might want to check in with previous employers. Being thorough when hiring employees can only work in your favor.

It’s just as important, when faced with the unhappy task of firing an employee, to be sure you have all of the facts. A clear understanding of what exactly went wrong in a situation is the best tool you have. Remember, being fired affects all areas of a former employee’s life and may even inhibit their future job search, so don’t take it lightly.

Making assumptions in the workplace is a a dangerous game, especially in this day and age. Do the best you can to stay up to date and on the same page as your employees. It’ll be better in the long run that you have a clear understanding of your employee’s feelings and skill level; avoid uncomfortable situations before they begin.


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