Never Assume You Can Speak For Others Unless It’s Agreed Upon

It’s always been advised that one should never judge a book by a cover. Hand-in-hand with that advice is the understanding that we should not make assumptions about anything or anyone.

These pieces of advice have as much to do with leadership as they do with surveying one’s entire environment and keeping an open mind as one seeks a familiar, supportive, and safe environment in which to proceed, thrive, and succeed in one’s mission.

“…we should not make assumptions about anything or anyone…”

Two recent, high-profile cases illustrate what can happen (or not happen) when glaring and inaccurate assumptions are made.  These examples illustrate that such presumptions can occur anywhere and to anyone, regardless of the cause, whether that cause works toward peace or aims to shake up the status quo and challenge authority.

In the first case is the relationship between the LGBT community and Caitlyn Jenner. The LGBT community might have hastily assumed that because Bruce Jenner was now transitioning to a woman, that her beliefs, comments, and actions might easily fall in line with those of the LGBT community. This was hardly the case, whether it was Jenner’s continuing political affiliation and support of the Republican Party, playful dismissal of a Halloween costume in her likeness, or her previous disapproval of gay marriage. The LGBT community expected that because Jenner was transgender, that she would fall into a particular mold which coincided, for the most part, with their opinions and stances. As one can see, this was not the case.

“…what you see on the outside isn’t always what you’re going to get from the inside…”

The other example is the case of the Oregonian armed self-described militiamen who stated they were “peacefully protesting” by occupying a national wildlife refuge in Oregon in order to protest what they considered an overreaching federal government.  They claimed they were taking back this federal land to also simultaneously protest the conviction of two members of another local rancher family–the Hammonds.  In the days after the group took the refuge, the leaders had called to, and pleaded for, other ranchers to come and stand with them in their protest, but the response ranged from strong support (from a distance) to all out disagreement. One would have mistakenly automatically assumed that other ranchers with similar beliefs and who might have felt the same bitterness toward the government would have automatically taken up similar arms but in a twist of events, that had not been that case.  The strongest example of this unexpected opposition was evidenced by the Hammonds–the family of the convicted ranchers–as it stated that the militia did not represent the views of the Hammond family and that the co-defendants of the criminal case would report to prison peacefully.

Now, these are extreme, rare, and national cases, but they demonstrate the importance of caution against jumping to conclusions through assumptions.

“…it’s not only the agreement, but the level of agreement that one has to take into consideration…”

One always needs to learn about their environment and those in it enough to know what steps should or should not be taken which might impact others. This is especially the case if one is assuming certain colleagues or acquaintances are allies in mission, opinion, or action.

Never assume that because someone looks like you that they agree with or support your cause. The opposite should also be considered in that just because someone looks, speaks, or presents themselves differently from oneself it should not be assumed there is no common ground that can be reached.

Keep in mind that even those who might support one’s cause might support it in varying levels, meaning they might believe it to various degrees that might call for different levels of actions.  So it’s not only the agreement, but the level of agreement that one has to take into consideration before acting.

When it comes to those in your environment, what you see on the outside isn’t always what you’re going to get from the inside.

So before you make the jump on anything, make sure that those you assume are with you will actually follow suit.

So…What About You?

  • What steps do you take to assess the players in your environment, whether professional or personal?
  • How did instances work out where you had incorrectly assessed the players in the environment?
  • What results played out in cases where the assessments might have been incorrect?

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