Assume nothing

My friend has a postcard pinned over her desk reminding her to “Assume nothing”. It is a piece of advice given by her therapist to help her resist self-destructive trains of thought. “She is married so she must be happier than I am”; “They have a nice house so they must be richer than me”; “I’ve messed up in my previous job/relationship so I expect I’ll mess up in this one”. Why assume those negatives? What do you know – really know – about any of those scenarios?

assume nothing

I was reminded of all this the other day when I met a man for his first mediation meeting (his MIAM). My conventional small talk as we introduced ourselves was met with one-word answers, and even when we were seated, he batted away my questions with uninformative responses and a blank stare. I assumed he was a man of few words who would rather not communicate with anyone.

I managed somehow to push things along, persuade him to engage – and blow me down, it turned out he was a professional speaker and made a decent living addressing rooms full of people, motivating them to support charitable activities.

Mediators avoid making assumptions

Mediators have specific strategies for avoiding assumptions. They are trained in active listening: they focus intensely on what their clients are saying, often interrupting them to confirm they have understood correctly, and to check out the impressions they are forming. “Have I got this right? Am I correct in thinking…?” They do their level best not to form opinions or pass judgement. That’s possibly why clients say they feel relieved at the end of their MIAM: they had assumed they would be quizzed and judged, and actually, what happens is that for the first time for ages, they are listened to and heard. It feels good.

In mediation, we take you as you are, find out as much as we can about you both, and then help you cut through assumptions you may have made about each other. That too can be a huge relief. Being able to ask questions about the other person’s finances, or the way they are parenting the children, and get answers, can clear up a lot of resentment based on assumptions that had no foundation in fact.

“Assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me” – another useful reflection. Maybe I’ll pin that over my desk as well …

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