In today’s blog post, I would like to get into a topic that seems to recur a lot in my life. I haven’t always been aware of it but in a lot of conflicts, assumptions are the culprit of an escalation. They go hand in hand with the absence of or insufficient communication, which often makes people think that an inefficient communication is the root cause of conflict. What I experienced however is that the first potentially conflict-inducing step is the presence of (untrue) assumptions in people’s minds.
Once we reach a certain age or once we have had our fair share of social interactions and relationships in life, it’s natural to assume things about others because the situation they put us in feels familiar and we jump to conclusions based on our previous experiences with said situations. This is perfectly normal, particularly for anxious people who want to avoid upsetting others at all cost and therefore want to be prepared for lots of potential outcomes. However, when in doubt, I learned that is is essential to ask the other person about their feelings instead of just assuming the worst, in order to avoid a conflict that has absolutely no foundation to begin with.
As an example, imagine the following situation which recently happened to me:
You’re hanging out with a bunch of friends / acquaintances and you’re minding your own business, listening to music because you need to rest and because your introverted self needs a bit of solitude to recharge. You don’t feel like talking much because you’re tired but you’re perfectly fine doing your thing, letting the others do theirs. You don’t want to drag people down by forcing yourself to participate in their activities, so you politely decline.
Suddenly, people start giving you the cold shoulder. A close friend of yours asks if you’re okay, to which you reply that you’re fine and that you just need some time to yourself to rest, which is the most honest and accurate thing you could possibly have said. Unfortunately, she doesn’t believe nor understand you even though she’s one of your closest friends (and has been for almost two decades).
The situation doesn’t change and even gets more uncomfortable as time passes.
The reason for this is very simple: at the start of this whole situation, while I was keeping to myself, the people who didn’t know me well (AKA the acquaintances) probably assumed I didn’t like them and that I therefore didn’t want to spend time with them. They figured I was avoiding them and perceived my alone time as me raining on their parade, which resulted in them being seriously offended. I wasn’t aware of this at first and they didn’t ask me if any of it was true, so I didn’t get the chance to explain myself to them which, to be fair, I didn’t know I needed to do to begin with.
In fact, I once even explained my need to skip a party in order to go to bed early to them at some point, to which they answered that I didn’t need to justify myself to them. So far, so good.
I obviously suspected that something was wrong as soon as they stopped talking to me altogether or even acknowledging my presence, but I didn’t think I should be held accountable for how they were feeling based on their assumptions about myself that weren’t even anywhere near true. Clearly, they, not me − I was fine, remember? − had a problem with the situation from the start, so I believe it was their responsibility to either accept my behaviour and move on with their lives or to directly confront me about it, if it bothered them that much.
In hindsight, I’m quite sure that assumptions and the subsequent lack of communication are what killed the mood in the above-mentioned situation. However, after having given it a truckload of thought, I’m not entirely convinced that communication would have been enough to solve the issue. It sure would have helped everyone to be aware of each others points of view, but the differences in character and possibly the lack of non-judgmental acceptance on behalf of some of the involved might have caused a conflict anyway.
It’s pretty safe to say that things didn’t end well which is unfortunate and sadly, I didn’t manage to patch things up with my friend of twenty years.
I learned two things, however:
- Having been friends for what feels like forever doesn’t mean that the relationship is unshakable.
- Assuming the worst in people doesn’t lead to anything good.
To sum up, I would like to remind you to be aware of your assumptions. Have them, acknowledge their presence in your mind and don’t be afraid to challenge them – they’re nothing but thoughts.
When in doubt, just ask.