Why Assumptions Are Making Your Work Life Miserable

Dial back the assumptions, and life get’s a lot more peaceful

We create a lot of disappointment for ourselves when we make assumptions.

Case in point, a previous employer of mine. He had a pretty distinguished career as far as labels go. And based on his credentials and the professional accolades he displayed throughout his office, I made the assumption that he was high functioning in all aspects of his life.

But I was wrong. The guy was socially inept, mean, and incapable or unwilling to pick up on social cues. He’d make heaps of inappropriate, should-have been-called-into-HR comments. And he wouldn’t even blink after saying them.

As bad as that kind of stuff was, the thing that really got to me was that he was always assuming things hadn’t been done correctly or at all. It was common for him to ask for something to be completed a specific way, then fire off a snarky comment about how it was done incorrectly two days later.

Self preservation, as well as the need to not get fired told me it was best to track down proof that I hadn’t screwed up my work. But try doing that day every time you get into the office. That is some exhausting shit right there.

I found myself more often than not putting my actual to-do list on hold, in order to rangle up the information showing that I hadn’t screwed anything up. So I was perpetually defending myself, and my ego was out of control.

I would complain about him all the time, which was equal parts exhausting. I let myself get worked the f*** up about this dude’s behaviour on the regular.

At the time I would have given anything to be able to pull the plug and walk away from that job. But I needed the money. And something about his behaviour was eerily familiar to me — my previous employer had been equally as big headed and bullish in his requests. So I thought to myself, “girl you gotta stick this out and figure out why you keep getting the same types of employers over and over.”

So I stayed. And I came to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to change, but I could change how I viewed him and the job.

I started focusing on the good things about this highly dysfunctional and chaotic gig:

  • At least I had a job;
  • At least I had work to do and wasn’t sitting alone at home day in and day out, scrolling job boards, getting wrapped up in my depression;
  • At least I could pay the bills.

And then I thought, “gee, I wonder what life has been like for him?” In asking myself that question, which I could never really know the answer to on my own, I began to release my grip on all the assumptions I had made about him.

Namely, that he was capable of being polite or kind to me or the other employees.

The day I stopped making assumptions was the day things started to get better.

I realized that regardless of his professional designation, the guy had some serious issues. And although he was really good at what he did, he wasn’t good at dealing with people.

I also realized he had no friends outside of work, and lived a very isolated existence because of his inability to converse in socially acceptable ways. And I realized he lived in the fear zone, constantly paranoid about not getting paid, or people screwing him over.

And then I though, “hmm…I wonder what happened to him as a kid? How did his parents act, and how did they treat him?”

Based on all that wondering and pondering, I realized that just like everyone else, he had some things to work on. And in assuming he was high functioning in all areas of life, I was causing myself a lot of inner turmoil.

So I decided it was time to drop the assumptions, and stop amping myself up for disappointment.

Regardless of titles, humans are programmed to be imperfect. And I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of hyper-talented people lack social skills. While it’s great to see the amazing work they do, talent doesn’t give them free rein to treat people badly.

When I realized this, I ended up calling the guy out. I told him that if his behaviour continued I would quit. And though he initially pushed back with another snarky comment, he quickly figured out that if he kept up the rudeness, I wouldn’t be around to listen to it.

And even though fear rumbled me to the core that day, standing up for myself was worth it. Because after that day things got better. I set the stage for what I wouldn’t put up with, and he started being kinder to me.

I could go into all the other reasons why things changed (how I began to value myself more and found that people responded better when I had a deeper appreciation for myself and what I bring to the table) but that’s not required for this post.

What I want to focus on is reminding everyone to dial back their expectations.

I’m not saying you should walk around assuming everyone is a moron and incapable of functioning. I’m saying don’t forget that behind every accomplished professional is a kid who has yet to work through their own unresolved emotional issues.

And while compassion and empathy go a long way, you don’t have to put up with being treated badly.

Yes, my ex-employer ran a highly profitable business. He had multiple employees and won awards for his work. But emotional intelligence-wise he was not unlike many other folks walking the streets these days: insecure; blindly egotistical to try to compensate for his insecurities; and scared shitless.

I learned a lot through all the complaining and snark and dysfunction that came from that job. And as much as I loathed it for quite some time, I wouldn’t change a thing about the experience. I am who I am today because of it.

It taught me to dial back the assumptions, and in doing so, my life became a heck of a lot more peaceful.

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Andrea Scoretz is a soul-centric freelance writer, storyteller, and Huffington Post blogger from Vancouver Island, Canada. Learn more about her via www.mustlovecrows.com