Negative Assumptions: The Silent Assassins of Confidence, Creativity + Success
My grandmother once told me that ‘what other people think of you is none of your business’. Which is all very well until you work out that the greater problem isn’t what other people think of you. It’s what you think they think. My clients are successful, engaging, articulate, clever and emotionally intelligent. Yet, their perception of themselves is frequently diametrically opposed to that of their colleagues, clients and employees. And not in a positive way.
The greatest barriers we face to professional achievement and personal fulfilment are often those that we build ourselves. It is therefore no surprise that identification of these self-defeating obstacles is a such a rich source of invaluable insight during coaching conversations.
One of the most insidious of these obstacles is the Negative Assumption. Whether you are deciding to go for a promotion, take on a new team, start a new venture or pitch for a new client, Negative Assumptions are the weapons that we, often unwittingly, deploy against ourselves to most performance-limiting affect. As assumptions play a significant role in governing our attitude and behaviour, this is a topic that touches neuroscience, psychology and therapeutic practice. My focus in this article however, is limited to the role of (self)-coaching in illuminating negative assumptions, challenging them and ultimately helping you get out of your own way.
Step One: Interrogate Your Own Negative Assumptions
Are you getting in your own way? If so, how?
When you prepare for a new challenge do you feel a sense of excitement at the opportunity to win more business, meet new people, show off your knowledge or explain a new concept? Or, do you start to feel the nerves building and a nagging sense of ‘I can’t or don’t want to do this’. As the moment approaches, do you feel progressively more galvanised and energetic or do you start mentally preparing yourself for a negative outcome? After all, if you don’t get your hopes up, you can’t be disappointed.
Why does this happen? In my experience, a negative assumption is often the crux of the problem. It infiltrates your attitude which influences your behaviour, sometimes so negatively that it (ironically) delivers the outcome you most fear. For example: What if, to try and demonstrate how much you know, you interrupt people (implying that you believe that your input is of more value) or fail to listen properly and so miss the issue you are being asked to solve….and so fail to demonstrate how much you know and can do…
If you recognise this pattern, then try asking yourself ‘what assumptions am I making when I imagine the situation I am about to face’? Is there a negative one such as ‘they will think I don’t know what I am talking about‘ lurking there?
Step Two: Identify the Positive Assumptions that will work for you
Would you feel and behave more effectively if you made Positive Assumptions?
Would you feel more confident if you assumed that the people you were talking to already respected you? Would you talk with greater passion if you assumed that the audience was genuinely interested in your presentation? Would you be more motivating if you assumed that your team believed in you? Would you relax if you assumed you were likely to win the pitch? And if you did, would you become more engaging? Would your eyes shine with genuine enthusiasm? Would you think more clearly and creatively if you assumed they already thought of you as an effective problem-solver?
Step Three: From Assassin to Ninja
Practice, practice, practice..
Before you develop your approach to the next challenge or change, rather than thinking on auto-pilot, identify your negative assumptions and then identify the positive assumptions you need to deploy to override them. Continue with this disciplined thought dissection and management, until your positive assumptions become your Silent Ninjas of success.
As with all these mindful topics, coaching is a highly effective method of developing the insight required to introduce positive change. When clients are given the time and space to challenge their assumptions, they realise that they are capable of winning the client, getting the promotion, making time for the gym, building a relationship with a difficult colleague, switching career etc.
As for my grandmother. She was wonderful in every way, and everyone knew it, but her.