When assumptions stop helping

Becca Timmins
Becca Timmins

This is the third in a series of three posts, where I consider the challenges of intergenerational conversations and how we can facilitate them more effectively for better outcomes. You can find links to the first two posts at the end.


Assumptions are everywhere. They are fundamental to the way we learn so it’s not surprising really.

If I walk into a room and it’s dark, I have learned to assume that pushing the white plastic thing on the wall will produce light – I don’t have to stumble around in the dark, learning the same thing over and over again. My brain has embedded that helpful assumption.

True assumptions are incredibly useful and important. They save us a lot of time!

Untrue assumptions (if we think they’re true) can be limiting

So, what happens when our experiences lead us to assume things that are untrue?

Perhaps a teacher said something to us that we interpreted as “you’re stupid”. 

Maybe a boss who gave us all the answers led us to assume “I’m not capable of working things out for myself”.

Or a lifetime of busy work leaves an assumption that “when I retire I won’t be valuable any more”.

And that’s just the start of it. 

How often do we assume things about other people without ever checking that those assumptions are true? 

Assumptions between the generations

Topics like care fees, inheritance tax planning, elderly parents, and second marriages place financial planners centrally in some sensitive but vital family discussions. Helping each generation to see their assumptions for what they are could play a vital role in moving beyond conflicts.

Imagine a father deeply listening to his son for just 30 minutes about his hopes, fears, worries and desires relating to their family business. Without interruption or judgement. 

I’ve watched that happen. It dispelled so many assumptions that dad held but had been unspoken. It was transformational for their relationship.

(Read more about what’s needed to build the trust to have these conversations here)

The priorities of different generations might be very different, but we are very likely to assume what those priorities are unless we ask, and listen well. 

Where to begin?

Perhaps begin by examining your own assumptions in a meeting.

Are you assuming that you add less value if you do less talking and give space for your clients to think for themselves and listen to each other? 

From my own experience, this is definitely not true!

Are you perhaps assuming the life priorities of your clients (or their kids) based on demographic profiles (or anything else for that matter)?

Possibly if you’re honest… unconscious bias is pretty insidious. 

Are you assuming that the people in front of you have ever listened to each other before, free of interruption?

Almost certainly not true. If you can facilitate that for your clients, the value you add will be immeasurable. 

Helping others to uncover their assumptions

Creating space for clients to think about their assumptions explicitly can also be very valuable. 

What might you be assuming about *retiring / passing money to your kids / having that conversation*…?” (you get the idea)

I’ve seen many times that just looking at assumptions can be helpful, seeing that they are only assumptions and not certainties. Considering that they could be wrong. It’s very often the case that an assumption is so deeply embedded that we see it as truth without questioning it.

“I’m just not someone who can ever be self employed” was something I unconsciously believed. Until someone asked me what I was assuming that was holding me back and I spotted it for what it was. An assumption based partly on my beliefs about financial security, and partly on the fact that I would be the first person in my family to take that path.

Challenging untrue assumptions

Bringing the generations together to listen to each other and dispel what they are assuming about each other, could be a huge source of untapped potential in planning firms with ageing client banks. Build trust with that next generation, and perhaps you will retain them as clients for the long term.

But what about when we can spot that a client is assuming something unhelpful that they’re just not seeing? 

We have to be careful. Often assumptions have been deeply held for a long time and come with some major emotional baggage. But it is possible to help people to see and question an assumption for themselves and this can produce transformative results.

I recently heard of a client of 85 in poor health, who had expressed that he had “plenty of time to give money away”. Certainly an assumption, and potentially an untrue one.

By gently asking “If you knew that you have to survive for 7 years for gifts to be completely free of inheritance tax, and your statistical life expectancy is 6.9 years, what, if anything, might change?”

The client began to think differently. It’s never nice to think about our own mortality, but that gentle reality check meant that his next step was to ask his kids to join the next planning meeting.

Time to level up?

With the ever present Consumer Duty requirement of “avoiding foreseeable harm”, not only do these sorts of conversations add immeasurable value, but finding sensitive paths through them has become a necessity.

It’s not easy, and requires a greater level of emotional intelligence, self awareness and skill from Financial Planners. But I believe those who embrace this challenge will be those who differentiate themselves over the coming decade and beyond and take advantage of some fantastic opportunities with the generations beyond the baby boomers!

If you are interested in learning more, and developing your skills in this area, the Unlocking Excellence programme could be for you. With a one day introduction and a full programme leading to a qualification to choose from, you can select the level of commitment that is right for you. You can find out more here, and if you would like to discuss it further, book in here for a chat.

This is the third in a series of three posts on the topic of intergenerational conversations. Links to the others are below.

Building trust in intergenerational financial planning

Succession planning across generations

Photo by Isabella Fischer on Unsplash

Becca Timmins

Becca is an accredited Time to Think Consultant, Coach and Facilitator. She has extensive experience coaching and developing people within a Thinking Environment framework, working with individuals and teams at all levels, primarily within financial planning businesses.
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Becca Timmins

Becca is an accredited Time to Think Consultant, Coach and Facilitator. She has extensive experience coaching and developing people within a Thinking Environment framework, working with individuals and teams at all levels, primarily within financial planning businesses.
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