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  • Writer's pictureBecca Timmins

What are you assuming?

This post is part of a series of blog posts where I consider each component of the Thinking Environment individually, in order to better understand the relationship between the Thinking Environment and psychological safety. In this post, I focus on the component of Incisive Questions.

Incisive Questions: Freeing the human mind of an untrue limiting assumption lived as true.

At the heart of everything that we perceive, are assumptions. When we sit on a chair, we have learned to assume that the chair will support our weight. When we send someone an email, we have learned to assume that they will receive it and reply.

Most assumptions are helpful. They are how we learn. They help us to make sense of all the electrical impulses that arrive in our brains, shaping them into our perceptions of the world. There is a wonderful TED talk by Anil Seth, called “Your Brain Hallucinates your Conscious Reality” that explains this really well.

But what about the assumptions that hold us back? That have crept into our consciousness based on past experiences, and become untrue assumptions about ourselves or the world?

“We’ve always done it like that, so we assumed it was the only way”, “Our clients prefer it that way” (based on conversations five years ago with a couple of clients), “I’m not creative” (based on a particular school report from an art teacher who we didn’t really get on with).

We want to remove those kinds of assumptions, right? To stop them limiting out thinking, being stuck in a rut and resistant to change. But how can we challenge these assumptions, when often, we have accepted then not as that, but as beliefs, even truths, on which we base our thinking?

Let’s take the “my clients prefer” example.

If I say to you “Your clients don’t prefer it that way, it’s all in your head”, you will feel challenged. I’m threatening what you hold to be true. And sometimes those “truths” are held at a very fundamental level. Your amygdala will go haywire, and you will no longer feel safe thinking with me.

Our minds don’t like to obey! So, if I tell you to change your mind, you’re not going to respond well. More than likely, you will find me threatening, and shut me down, defending your point of view. Your critical thinking will be overtaken by your emotional, instinctive, threat response.

What if, instead, I frame it differently? Give you something for your mind to play with. A hypothetical construct, that you can simply, safely, explore.

You ARE assuming that you know what your clients prefer (unless you can provide me with clear and recent evidence to the contrary). You don’t KNOW it to be true. We can use that to instead ask:

“If you knew that your clients might prefer things a different way, how would you go about redesigning your service?”

That feels much safer. I’m not telling you to think something different, simply inviting you to play with the idea that an alternative assumption could yield more creative thinking.

And from there…. anything could happen!

That is the inherent safety that an incisive question provides.

If you would like to have a conversation about how you can work to free yourself and your team from limiting assumptions, please get in touch for a chat or email me.

Click below for links to other blogs in this series











Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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