You’ve heard the saying “When you assume it makes an “a**” out of “u” and ’me’.” I wouldn’t quite put it like that, but I WILL tell you that when it comes to communication, whether for job interviews, elevator pitches, or presentations, many of us assume our listeners know way more than they actually do.
In this day and age, we’ve become so afraid of giving TMI (too much information) that we often end up leaving out important details. Assumptions that get in the way of communication come in two forms: Emotional Assumptions and Logical Assumptions. Don’t let them doom your next communication.
Logical Assumption: Your listener understands what you do just because you tell them your job title.
I can’t tell you how many times working with clients on job interviews or presentations, a person will give a job title or brief description and then assume that the listener will know everything they need to know. Most of us are so intimate with the minutia that goes into what it is that we do that we make the assumption that everyone else is equally familiar with it and therefore omit important details that can help your listener truly understand what it is you do.
Some of you may be thinking, “But surely for a job interview or a presentation for my peers, the listener should have some knowledge of what I do. Why would I have to go into detail?” The operative word here is “some knowledge.” Yes, people may know in theory what a title like: Financial Consultant, Marketing Director or Human Resource Manager means, BUT that doesn’t guarantee that they understand what it is that you actually do. The danger with giving too few details is that it forces your listener to dig into their memory and pull up their own assumptions. Some of those assumptions might be positive, some may be neutral, and some may be a turn off. If the last financial consultant they met helped them amass a fortune, terrific. But what if the financial consultant that comes to mind is the one that ruined their grandmother’s estate?
Emotional Assumption: You know how your listener or audience feels about a topic.
Many times in preparing for a presentation, my clients will say things like,”I know you all want” “You must be tired of…” Whenever I hear those kinds of statements a little caution light goes on and I encourage a different word choice. Why? Because most people hate being pigeonholed or having their thoughts and emotions lumped together with the thoughts and emotions of a larger group. It may be important to bring up negative assumptions that an audience may have about your topic, (it’s called getting the elephant out of the room), but it’s equally important not to categorically assume what people are thinking or feeling. Feel it out by using modal auxiliaries, (might, could, may, etc.); they’re not called “polite” forms of speech for nothing.