When we first meet people, we make immediate assumptions about them in our heads. We all do it, it’s a habit we form and continue through our lives, and it’s something we’re not consciously aware we’re doing. It’s based on our life experiences, on people we know and have known throughout our lives which form our ideas. In our minds, we decide certain things about people we meet even if we know nothing about them.
I deliberately shorten my name. It’s exhausting having to constantly spell it or ask people to try pronouncing it. For work purposes, I started shortening even further when I began working in male-dominated tech industries. The reason? Well, it worked to my advantage in many ways, for people to receive an email from me and make an assumption that I was a man. I had a nickname at work of ‘Mr Mo’ as so many emails were addressed to me in that way. Then when people met me, they had to deal with the assumption they had made.
This is just one example. Think about all the assumptions you might make when you meet someone. We presume things like gender, marital status, education levels, wealth, status and so many other things. Women are asked when they are going to have children, everyone is asked when they are getting married, we ask about people’s parents, their home life, their education, all the time making assumptions based on what we think and what we know.
Impact of assumptions
What’s the impact of all of this? Well, what we might be doing in enforcing our assumptions on people is causing upset, offence, or insult without realising it. We ask people questions and talk to them about things in a way that might make that person feel incredibly uncomfortable. So by asking a woman when she is going to have children, we make the assumption that she wants to, and is able to. What we don’t know is that the woman might have had several miscarriages, could be going through fertility treatment, or might have made a very conscious decision not to have children. The assumption made could be very damaging and upsetting.
We could make others too. So we could feed someone a dish with nuts in it, without knowing they have a severe allergy. We could book a meeting somewhere with stairs but no lift, without realising they have accessibility needs. We could address someone in a meeting thinking they are the boss, and deeply offend the person who is actually the boss. In a work context, there are so many things we assume about people and their lives. If we don’t consider this, and our impact, then we could make our workplaces feel unwelcome and make people feel unincluded without intending to.
Bigger impacts of these assumptions will affect a business’s performance. If you presume things about your market or people you are meeting, without considering the impact of that, you could turn them away from wanting to deal with you. If you assume things with your employees, you could develop a reputation as an employer who doesn’t include everyone and causes offence. All of these things have a big impact on your business performance.
Challenging Your Assumptions
So how can we challenge all of this? Well, it takes thought, consideration, and learning. Unconscious bias training helps with this, to help people become aware of the assumptions they make and how to behave differently to make people feel included. It’s not just the latest trend, this is something that helps people to understand and to be more understanding. It’s something everyone should do so that they think about how they communicate with people. Every single person has biases, and everyone makes assumptions, so by doing training on this with strategies to help you, everyone can be more aware of the impact they have when they make assumptions about people.
That’s why we developed our ‘Challenge Your Assumptions’ training course. This is a simple way to start thinking about the assumptions you make and how to think differently when you meet new people. It’s an online course for individuals to complete, in an engaging format and with a certificate at the end. Just £50 per person to get you and your team started on your journey to unlocking the value of an inclusive, happy, engaged workplace. Contact us for group discounts firstname.lastname@example.org