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Anger and Assumptions

A client relayed a recent experience in which he was cooperating on an important work project with an individual whom he felt was a “bit of a slacker”. Whenever this individual heard the phone ringing in the adjoining office, he immediately jumped up to answer it. My client assumed that the individual was using the ringing telephone as an excuse to get out of work, and he became very angry, uttering a few expletives under his breath.

When returning from one of his telephone excursions, this individual apologized and said that he had been expecting a call about his very ill father. My client felt embarrassed and very relieved that the person had not heard his inappropriate expressions of anger—a response that was based entirely on a false assumption.

Making an assumption about what someone says or does, without understanding their motivation or having all the facts, can lead to knee-jerk responses, frustration, agitation, anger and hurt feelings. Assumptions are dangerous, and because they are narrow in scope and made without all the information needed, they are often influenced by how the person making the assumption feels at that moment or by personal beliefs and values.

Quite often, when a person assumes less than positive things about others—causes, decisions, lifestyles, behaviours, beliefs—it is a reflection of that person’s own low self-esteem. Those who make the negative assumption generally aren’t all that comfortable in their own skin. They see things that aren’t there and hear things 161 that aren’t true. And these things can be totally off the mark. Making assumptions instead of verifying the truth or checking the facts is a guaranteed way to raise tension in most relationships.

Below is an example from my previous life as a first-year teacher when I thought I knew everything and actually knew very little:

Jim was a good kid, an average student, but one morning he fell asleep in class, my class, my extremely life-altering grade nine geography class. I yelled and embarrassed him. To think he could fall asleep in such an interesting class. Where was his head at? I discovered later that day his grandmother had died the previous night and he hadn’t slept at all , but he didn’t want to miss school . And I had yelled at him! Where was my head at? That experience influenced me to make fewer assumptions and to check things before opening my mouth—and putting my foot in it. Jim did hear an apology from one very humble teacher, and he did forgive me.

Responding with anger to any situation is a choice. Although there are times when it is appropriate to be angry, in most cases it is best to “talk” about what is causing an angry reaction and not to “be” angry.55 And it is almost never appropriate to choose anger based on an assumption. Be sure to check things out thoroughly before speaking.

Don’t assume anything—get the facts first!