(originally published October 13th, 2005)

I usually go about my business thinking two things in general. One, I believe people are inherently good, but sometimes do bad things. Two, I believe people are generally intelligent, just not at everything.

It’s this second one that probably gets me the most frustrated, and one that all leaders and managers need to guard against. As I tend to talk to many people who have either college degrees or specialized certifications in something, I usually assume that when I say certain things to them that they’re going to understand me. Subject notwithstanding, quite often I’m talking to people about something they should at least have a passing knowledge about, not something out of the blue, as in talking to a podiatrist about nuclear physics.

So I’ll go into an encounter, figuring the person may not know the specifics of what I’m about to speak on, but feeling that they’ll probably be able to grasp the concept fairly quickly because, after all, they are in the field. And when they not only don’t understand what I’m saying, but come out with a statement that makes me want to give them the stare (which my wife says I need to learn to control), I find myself quickly wishing I’d stop assuming that these supposedly intelligent people will easily grasp anything I have to say, just because I might think it’s easy.

Leaders and managers do a lot of assuming. They do it because usually they’re pretty much on top of an issue, and automatically assume one of two things; either the other people have the same or greater knowledge, or they have no idea about anything and need to be spoon fed. Either case isn’t good, just as assuming, for the most part, isn’t necessarily a good thing. I say it that way because I tend to speak in terms of assumptions, yet most of the time I usually know exactly what I mean to get across; I’m just not an “in-your-face” type of person.

What I need to do more often, and what most of us probably need to do more often, is to go into a situation ready to ask questions and do a lot of listening. That not only gives the other person a chance to shine, if they so choose, but it gives you some time to evaluate, rather than assume, and thus you won’t feel as though you’ve been left hanging in either direction because you’ve somehow, inadvertently, put yourself in a situation you didn’t want to be in. The only thing worse than discovering a person doesn’t know something is finding they did know something, and believe you’re being condescending towards them.

Of course, some people will just be mad at you because you happen to know most of the answers,… but that’s their problem. 🙂