THE 3RD OF THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

Agreement 4 - Don't make assumptions. Ask questions and communicate

INTRO

Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a best selling book called The Four Agreements - I really appreciated his insights and thought how well they could be applied to Midlife. So throughout August I'll be covering them one at a time. Here is the 1st Agreement, and here is the 2nd Agreement (if you missed them) and today it's the Third Agreement and what Midlife has taught me in regard to it.

AGREEMENT 3 - DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS 

How often do we jump to conclusions? If you're anything like me, you'd have to confess to doing it more often than you like to admit! We're so good at thinking we know what someone else means, and so quick to read intentions into it that may not actually be the case. Once we've decided that the other person meant something (whether they did or didn't is irrelevant to us at that stage!) we're reacting to the situation and heading off on a path that may never needed to have been taken.

Agreement 4 - Don't make assumptions. Ask questions and communicate

FIND THE COURAGE TO ASK QUESTIONS

How many times do we realize we've jumped to the wrong conclusion after we've already leapt and are suffering the consequences? How many times have we decided that someone was criticizing us, or having a laugh at our expense, or was thinking less of us? How many times have we read a whole story into a few words? Granted the other person may not have made their intentions clear in how they spoke, but did we take the time to ask what they really meant, or did we just assume we knew?

It's so easy to take offence because we have our own insecurities and worries - we assume others see the same flaws in us and are being critical or judgemental. Often they have no idea what our inner demons are telling us, they're just spouting from their own point of view and their own belief system. Sometimes we need to practice the pause - just stop for a moment and ask ourselves if we really believe that the other person intended to hurt us with their words. Ask a few questions, clear the air, and maybe you'll be surprised at how off the track you were in your interpretation.

EXPRESS WHAT YOU REALLY WANT

Maybe it's time for us all to be more honest with our words. We hedge around things and the meaning gets lost in translation. Perhaps if we were a little clearer in how we deliver our requests or our comments, we'd avoid others taking it the wrong way. We assume everyone thinks about things from the same basis and foundation that we do, and we forget that everyone has a different perspective depending on their background and their beliefs.

We make assumptions that everyone sees life the way we do - Don Miguel Ruiz

COMMUNICATE WITH OTHERS CLEARLY TO AVOID:

1) MISUNDERSTANDINGS

I wrote a blog post last year that caused a deep rift with a close family member who I loved deeply. They misread what I was saying, interpreted it from the assumption that I meant something else, and took grave offence. Instead of dealing with it swiftly and openly, it became an exchange of emails and months of silence and distance. So much hurt and sadness - my heart was truly broken by the whole situation - and it took many, many months to repair the unintenional hurt and to return to our original relationship.

2) SADNESS

Even now, I feel pain and sadness when I think back to that time. Whenever I write something I'm careful to read and review it to make sure that it can't be seen as meaning something else. I've been told that I shouldn't write a blog post that can be mis-interpreted, but if that is how I approach how I write, it would be a very bland experience indeed, and one that stifled my voice and stopped me being able to write from my heart. Midlife has been about finding my voice and owning my opinions - but it's also about trying to not hurt others in the process.

3) DRAMA

Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, offences taken, and the fallout from these things cause so much unnecessary drama in our lives. Sometimes I wish I'd never written the post that got me into hot water, but at the same time it taught me that I can't be responsible for how other people choose to respond. They make assumptions and they need to practice the pause too - and ask themselves if I really meant to be hurtful. 

The same applies to me too, I need to remember that there is a big picture to consider, an ill-considered remark doesn't need to ruin a friendship - I can choose to overlook it and move forward. I can turn off the little voice in my head that thinks I'm not worthy and assumes others do too. It's time to focus on making positive assumptions rather than negative ones - and stopping the drama before it starts.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Have you ever made assumptions that turned out to be wrong? Do you have a little critical voice in your head that looks for affirmation by assuming others are being critical of you? Or are you confidently choosing to assume the best from those you interact with?
 

Agreement 4 - Don't make assumptions. Ask questions and communicate

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37 comments

  1. Again, I had a different take on the basic agreement. To me "Don't make assumptions" includes assumptions about what others do, not just what they say. So often, rumors start because somebody assumes something is happening that really is not.

    That said, I have been guilty of making assumptions. I have a damaged relationship with one brother because I assumed his motivations for missing an event and lashed out, and my apologies fell on deaf ears. I'm still awaiting reconciliation. Later, I was hurt by someone's actions that seemed belittling to me, but I haven't let it truly hurt our relationship. Truthfully, it still stings a little when I think about it, but in my actions, I've moved on. I guess that's growth.

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    1. We're all such fragile creatures under the surface aren't we Red? We think we've developed all the skills we need to interact and deflect hurt if it comes, but it only takes one direct hit to make us realize there is still a small child in there somewhere who gets incredibly hurt when someone close says or does something that presses our buttons - I guess we just keep moving forward and try to grow from the tough times. And I hope your brother bridges the gap soon too x

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  2. Early in our marriage, during a 'discussion', I said rather forcibly to Husby, "I know what you're thinking!" And his response stayed with me forever, "You do? You really know what I'm thinking?!"
    I had to admit I really didn't. And really don't. It was an eye-opening experience.

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    1. I try to tell myself that I have my husband figured out - but his mind is still unknown territory after 35 years - so I totally get what you're saying Diane - and that's what keeps marriage interesting!

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  3. Acting as if I know what other people are thinking is a really bad habit -- and not that easy to break! I'm still working on it.

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    1. We all do it Joy - I tend to always assume the worst too - which is such a shame because it sets the wrong precedent before the conversation has properly gotten underway! Now I try harder to assume that they mean the best rather than the opposite.

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  4. Guilty as charged, Leanne! In fact, my children would tell you that I usually jump in and finish sentences for them. I'm much better these days and try to listen more than speaking but I can always do with a reminder. Using Wise Speech is my goal these days. xx

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    1. I fall into the category of assuming that people judge me as much as I judge myself Sue. It's something I have to keep working on because people often have the best of intentions and it's unfair to everyone to assume otherwise.

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  5. Don't make assumptions...I saw something on the tv this morning that reminded me of this. A young woman decided to face 100 fears in 100 days. One of them was posing nude in an art class. After the session was over, she looked around at the drawings and some of them were only of her face. She said it taught her than people aren't usually thinking about you or judging you in the way you think they are. We assume they are judging us often because we are judging ourselves. Great post. Looking forward to the 4th agreement.

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    1. That's really interesting Leah - I know I fall into the trap of assuming others judge me as harshly as I judge myself. It's such a shame because we miss the positives if we're busy looking for the hidden agenda (when there might not actually be one!)

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  6. Hi, Leanne - Early in my life, my father shared the quote: "When you assume, you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me.' His words have stuck with me to this day. Like you, when proofreading my blog posts, I try to read them from every angle possible. Still, that's no guarantee that someone won't misread. We can only do our best.

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    1. That's what happened with the one I wrote Donna - I had no idea it would be interpreted in the way that it was - I guess we never quite know what's going on in the heads of the people we speak to or who read our blogs or emails or whatever - so we just have to do our best and hope that's enough.

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  7. Great post Leanne. I felt that I knew you were alluding to a certain family fallout and I was right.
    We often show a tough exterior to the world, but deep inside there is a sensitive part of us that can be bruised by unintended slights. We are all different, but deep down, we are all the same. xx

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    1. I think we forget how fragile that outer shell is until someone does or says something that causes it to crack. We inflict a lot of unnecessary pain on each other when we make assumptions and react to things that may never have been intended in the first place. It's all part of the lessons of life I guess....

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  8. it is a challenge this one - I still find myself making assumptions - they are tricky things - we can be so certain that we know what is going on what is meant what is beneath the text and in doing so we stifle the communication and end up suffering. my marriage of 30 years was severely threatened this year and while many factors played a part making assumptions played a key role. that is the fantastic thing about practising these agreements - the wealth of learning offered to us - we cannot control how another views us or interprets what we are saying. all we can do is aim to be the truth that we are and respect each other for sharing. our many differences can then become a pleasure rather then an issue.

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    1. Assumptions are a big challenge in marriage Sandra (even 30+ years down the track!) We think we know each other so well that we can read the intent behind the words. I know I've gotten that aspect wrong many times - and so has my husband. We bring our baggage into the conversation and it twists what we hear. I really hope you and your husband figure things out and manage to have another 30 years together - marriage is never as easy as we think it will be is it?

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  9. I love my hubby's mantra on this one - "always put the best spin on everything". He also likes to say "don't attribute motive" and "there's never any reason to be unkind" (which I think comes originally from Ravi Zacharias but it's definitely worth repeating). I love all of these but I'm not as practised at implementing them as my husband is. Thankful God is still working on me!!

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    1. I think your husband is a very wise man Sue (look who he's married to!) and my husband often has wise words about this stuff too. I tend to react first and think second and I have a bit of baggage that likes to raise its head in the mix too. I'm getting better at not "attributing motive" and jumping to conclusions - but not quite there yet.

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  10. Your comment to another reader, "We miss the positives if we are busy looking for the hidden agenda" fits me in a lot of respects. I enter conversations/new relationships with an abundance of skepticism, and I assume criticism that most likely is not there, but it wasn't always that way. I used to give everyone the benefit of the doubt - that bit me more than once, so I think I became guarded and protective to avoid hurt. These days, I take a little longer to make new friends, but the quality of the relationships are better overall. Lots to think about today Leanne. Thank you.

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    1. It's sad when we have to build walls isn't it Suzanne? I'm working out the balance that means I have boundaries but not walls that have to be climbed over. My problem was that I let other people blurt all over me and took it on board. Now I'm better at stepping back and trying to keep some space for myself without going too far in the other direction. If it's any consolation, I'm finding that new friendships are few and far between these days - it's just too hard!

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  11. I tend to be a 'glass half full' type of person, so if anything I'm too understanding and give others the benefit of the doubt. My goal is to find the balance of accepting the opinions and viewpoints of others while remaining strong and confident of my own. Workin' on it :)

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    1. I think we all have little voices in our heads that are busy running their own version of conversations and interactions Candi - it's so easy to listen to "Sally Sunshine" or "Deidre Doom" instead of what the person in front of us is actually saying - tuning out the assumptions is always tricky.

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  12. I think we need to remember this more than anything. I'm always good about asking questions, but we still don't always figure out things!!
    I'm pretty good at trying to see both sides of the coin, but it always depends on my mood!!
    XOXO
    Jodie
    www.jtouchofstyle.com

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    1. Maybe you had to develop the skills while you had patients in the chair who couldn't do more than nod or grunt Jodie? :) It makes for good questioning skills - unless you have a talker who manages to do it around the instruments in their mouth!

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  13. Hi Leanne,
    This is a very timely post. I'm right in the midst of assuming that a friend is thinking negatively of me. When she pauses before saying something or doesn't directly respond to something I've said, I think the worst. I recognize it as it's happening, but am having a devil of a time changing my assumptions. If I were more confident in what I believe and less susceptible to her opinions, positive or negative, life would be much better. I'm working on it.

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    1. Hi Karen, it's always hard when you march to the beat of a different drum. Some people struggle to understand it and in the process think they're minding their tongues, but are still giving off vibes that we then make assumptions about. It doesn't necessarily mean they're critical, more that they don't understand and don't know how to discuss something that's out of their comfort zone.

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  14. Oh, yes. I struggle with this habit of mine. I tend to judge first and then have to change my opinion and behavior after I realize that all my assumptions were so off base. I've taken to wearing a red rubberband around my wrist and when I start to think critically of a person or a situation, I give myself a nice snap. My wrist has been very red lately, but I'm counting on that to change as I gradually snap out of this unfortunate flaw.

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    1. My husband is a counsellor Jean and he'd be very proud of your rubber band snapping - he says it's a very effective tool for behaviour modification. I probably need half a dozen in different colours for all the stuff I need to modify!

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  15. This is something particularly problematic for me. I always leap to the worse possible conclusion and recently it's surfaced its ugly head at work. Just a comment or two and I've been feeling as if I'm doing a terrible job and everyone thinks I'm an idiot. I've talked to a few trusted colleagues of late (after sobbing to my mother and friends) and they don't think I'm reading the situation right at all. I know I've done it on a very short term basis in the past (professionally) - ie. thought someone was unhappy with something I did when their mood / actions were nothing to do with me, but this is the first time it's gone on for a while.

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    1. I'm a prime candidate for doing this at work too Deb - my boss is a surgeon and has zero personal skills - so I'm busy trying to interpret every grunt or grumble and often think he's being critical or doesn't like me (when in fact he just has very poor communication skills). I can logically see it's not about me, but the assumptions still pop up whenever I fail to read the situation clearly.

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  16. It's funny, I have a friend back in Sydney who whenever she goes silent, hubby will jump to the immediate conclusion that I or he has upset her. I no longer do - I know that it's the way that she is & it no longer bothers me. As my daughter is constantly reminding me - you know what assume does, don't you Mum?

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    1. I had an acquaintance who I was sure was judging me and thinking I was an idiot (for years) then realized she's really introverted and quiet and doesn't say much. She wasn't judging me at all - instead she was probably envying the fact that I could talk so freely!

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  17. Leanne - I have certainly made assumptions in my day but as I've left work drama behind, feel those tendencies fading. My social circle is small and while I sometimes feel insecurity creep in, I am not one to dwell (anymore). Thanks for another great post!

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  18. It's a very tough thing to not do. I am trying hard to ask the questions so that misunderstandings can be avoided but it's tough. I've downloaded the book so looking forward to reading it.

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  19. We never know what's going on in another person's life or head. Making assumptions is one of my bad habits, because I believe I know people so well. I have often got myself into trouble for this, but I'm slowly getting better at not making assumptions as I've got older and wiser. #TeamLovinLife

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  20. I don't know one person that has not fallen into this trap. My life is probably littered with misunderstandings on both my part and from others. Like you say, hopefully we are learning and getting wiser. We just have to feature this post on the next Blogger's Pit Stop, I hope we all take the time to consider it and learn.
    Kathleen

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  21. I love that you refer to courage to ask questions. So often people are afraid to simply ask a question.

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