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5 Jan 2015

Challenging Assumptions Exercises

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series Challenging Assumptions

Challenging assumptions exercises train our minds to become better problem solvers.

Assumptions often box us in. Challenging assumptions exercises frees us.

Assumptions box us in. We like them though because they make our communications simpler. For instance, I am writing assuming you can read English. Assumptions can be conscious or unconscious. Either way, they anchor thoughts in our minds. They become the sides of the box outside of which we are trying to think. Challenging assumption exercises help to free us.

As I wrote previously, becoming better at challenging assumptions is about practice. Here, I offer three challenging assumptions exercises as practice. They will help us train our minds to see hidden assumptions.

Exercise #1: Hidden Sales Assumption

Do you want to buy the red one or blue one?

Salespeople frequently use these types of questions in various forms. The unsaid assumption is:

You want to buy either one.

Exercise #2: Leading Assumption

Many times descriptors influence how we think. For example, consider these two statements:

  1. This plan will get it done because it worked in a similar situation.
  2. This good plan will get it done because it worked in a similar situation.

Both give evidence why the plan will get it done. In the second one though, “good” is added. The assumption now is:

This is a good plan.

The statement does not define what good means. It is a leading assumption because it leads us to believe it is good because it will get the job done. We might need to consider other factors such as cost before we determine whether the plan is a good one.

Exercise #3: Hidden Leading Assumption

This occurs when we use words or phrases with positive connotations to lock in a view.

Everything went according to plan.

We tend to feel good when things go according to plan. It does not account for the fact that perhaps we missed great opportunities not in the plan. Thus, if we ask, “How did everything go?” and people wanted to hide the fact that they ignored a great opportunity that came up, they could respond with, “Everything went according to plan,” leading us to think all went well.


These challenging assumptions exercises help train our minds. Assumptions are not bad. They make communication easier. We just need to prevent them from boxing us in.


Related posts:


Series Navigation<< Challenging Assumptions ExampleSolving Problems by Challenging All Things Equal Assumption >>

2 Responses

  1. I thought I had replied to your previous post regarding assumptions – but nothing found. ALL assumptions must conscious!!!! The problem solver (or better, problem-solving team) must make a concerted effort to listed. Why? Because, if PS efforts do not yield outcomes useful in addressing the situation faced, among the refinements to procedures must include revisiting those assumptions.

    And, yes, assumptions – carelessly made (or unconsciously made) – can be confining. BUT very often, because of unknown information or lack of sufficient time to identify needed information, assumptions are the only option (REMEMBER, everyone’s responsibility is to find the best possible response possible; rarely are we able to respond with “we don’t have enough information to proceed to a response – sorry…). It is absolutely the team’s responsibility however to revisit the assumptions, whether a response is identified or not!!!

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, John, you need to raise assumptions to consciousness to address. What I was raising are assumptions that are more akin to conditioned responses. These are unconscious. Parents, family, friends and society condition us to behave and think without awareness. These take on the form of immutable truths when they are really just assumptions. Still, to address we need to raise them to conscious awareness.

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