Communicating Without Assumptions

Communicating Without Assumptions

My rug and my cabinet exterior are both made from recycled soda bottles. Many of my choices are fueled by my desire to live more environmentally friendly.


So, when I was shopping last week and the lady after me in line at the grocery store got my attention to say “You know, it’s a small thing but you really should be using cloth bags!” it really pushed my buttons!

I felt a compulsion to explain, justify, make her realize that she had no idea who she was saying that to.

Of course I use cloth bags, most of the time. She was doing what we all do. She was making assumptions about me based on a small snippet of her experience of me.

One of the most powerful outcomes of practicing asking open-ended questions is that it provides a safeguard against assumptions we may be making. In coaching training we talk about “clean questions”.

A truly clean, open-ended question has a few key qualities:

1. It truly is a legitimate question, not a suggestion pretending to be a question

It does not contain my opinion. (What do you think of starting the new year with a habit of cleaning your desk every Friday?” is not a clean open-ended question.)

2. It is judgment free

Ideally a clean question is asked in a way that does not illicit a defensive reaction. “Why” questions usually trigger a feeling of a need to justify or feel defensive. (E.g. Why do you think you leave things to the last minute?) Shaming and criticizing are not effective ways to motivate!

3. It is expansive

Making a question really “open” is a skill in itself. One of the easiest ways to practice this skill is to start with “what” or “how” instead of “when”, “why” or “who”. The more expansive the better if you are wanting the person to explore ideas openly.

When we make assumptions about others and communicate those to them, they have a number of choices. Explain. Justify. Get defensive. Give up. Shut down. Try to prove us wrong. Not much about these choices is positive.

When we refrain from including the assumption in our questions or interactions we allow for growth, exploration and encouragement so much more easily.

Where are you most tempted to communicate based on assumptions?

What new habit would you like to incorporate into your communication for 2018?

Whatever holiday celebrations look like for you, I sure hope you get refreshed and renewed!

Until next time,


Marilyn is an Executive and Leadership Coach with Capacity Building Coaching, holding her Professional Certified Coach designation with the International Coach Federation. Marilyn provides professional coaching for executive and business leaders, mentor coaching for coaches, and leadership development support in the form of coaching skills training, soft-skills development, facilitation of key discussions and team coaching.

Marilyn is author of everyday resiliency workbook “How Absorbent Are Your Shocks?”, available on Amazon. Subscribe to “Marilyn’s Musings” twice monthly blogposts for more leadership and professional development content.

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