You know what happens when you “assume”

Woman with her two hands extended signaling to stopYou may have heard the phrase, “When you assume you make an “ass of u and me.” We all make assumptions in life; sometimes, many a day.

Often we’re correct and it shows that we have an understanding of the situation. Sometimes, however, our assumptions are wrong and we may look and possibly feel incompetent.

Last week I was delivering a webinar to the Port Orange IAAP Chapter in Halifax. Being Canadian, I naturally assumed The Chapter was in Halifax, Nova Scotia (a major city on the east coast of Canada). While we were chatting, I complained about our horrific winter this year (which is a very Canadian thing to do), and asked what the weather was like there. They told me they were under a tornado watch!

Here is how our conversation went:

Rhonda: “A tornado? In the winter? I had no idea you had tornados, let alone in the winter. I knew you sometimes were hit with hurricanes, but tornados? I had no idea!”

Roberta: “Oh yeah—we do. Florida gets them all the time.”

Rhonda: “Well, I know they do in the summer, but inland, not on the coast, do they?” (Here I am thinking they are comparing themselves to Florida because they are both on the coast of their respective countries).

Roberta: “Yeah.”

Rhonda: “You’re in Halifax, right?”

Roberta: “Yes, we are.”

I’m sure you’ve caught my faulty assumption by now. I was talking to the Port Orange Chapter of IAAP in Halifax, Florida. Not Halifax, Nova Scotia.

I never caught on, and they never realized that I was operating under a faulty assumption, because we both assumed

I went on to deliver the webinar, and I completely Canadianized it, using Canadian examples and references.

I often jokingly say that I’m bilingual: I speak Canadian and American. When I’m speaking to Canadians, I talk about Canadian companies and I use Canadian examples, measurements and temperatures. When I am in the U.S., I switch to American references. I don’t think my audiences should have to do the translations when I can easily do them for them.

The people listening to my webinar in Halifax, Florida must have been a little perplexed at all of the Canadian references I used in that session.

I didn’t even realize my mistake until the next day when I received an email from one of the members thanking me for the presentation. At the bottom of her email was her signature line… and her address.

I was horrified, embarrassed and laughing all at the same time.

We all laughed together when I pointed out my mistake to the people who had hired me to do the webinar. Fortunately it wasn’t a costly mistake, and I think my reputation weathered that storm, so my apologies were really enough in this situation.

But what if I had booked travel and ended up in the wrong city? I would like to think that wouldn’t happen but it really could have.

They could have said the meeting was being held at The Convention Centre on Front Street in Halifax, and I could have been in the wrong country! I could have checked the address before I left home, but it’s easy to see how one small misunderstanding could have led to a big problem.

Feedback is Rule #1 in communication. Feedback clarifies your understanding of what the other person is saying.

While I thought I had done that when I asked what city my client was in, I hadn’t fed back enough information. I should have said, “Halifax, Nova Scotia, right?” I may have felt a bit silly asking for clarification of something so “obvious” (it was obvious to my mind that we were talking about Nova Scotia) but in hindsight it actually would have made me sound pretty on-the-ball when we discovered the unusual error.

Here is a quick list of things that need “extra” clarification, extra feedback:

– area codes with phone numbers
– extensions
– spelling
– the pronunciation and spelling of names (including company names)
– times
– time zones
– the length of appointments
– airports (using the airport code or ORD)
– hotel names
– hotel brands (Hilton, Garden Inn, Hampton Inn and more are all part of the Hilton Chain and by just calling them the Hilton isn’t enough information)
– street addresses (there are many Marriott hotels on any strip in any city)
– others? (Feel free to respond to this post in the comments and add to the list for everyone so we can all benefit from your ideas)

While my assumption was actually quite funny and relatively harmless, it alerted me to the possibilities of potential errors that lie in simple assumptions.

Don’t let your haste cause you to make a major mistake that could be rectified in a few seconds. Don’t think that by not clarifying you are showing your understanding, or that by clarifying you are showing your ignorance.

Do have any funny stories you want to share about your assumptions? Please leave them in the comments section so we can all enjoy your experience, and learn at the same time.

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