Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options to

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/assume.htm

Updated  04/11/15

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      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An effective response occurs when you get your primary needs met well enough, and both people feel respected enough.

      This article offers (a) perspective on assumptions, and (b) sample effective responses to someone who assumes "too much."  It assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone

  • overviews of effective assertion and empathic listening skills.

      If there's a person in your life who annoys or frustrates you by over-assuming things. keep them in mind as you read this.


      I assume you make assumptions about people and situations all the time - yes? Can you describe what an assumption is, as tho to a pre-teen? How about "An assumption  is a guess about something you don't really know." For example, I assume (guess) that the sun will set this evening, and rise again tomorrow morning."

      Do you ever make assumptions about...

  • people's feelings, needs, thoughts, motives and behaviors?

  • past and future events?

  • spiritual realities, and a Higher Power's abilities, motives, powers, and intentions?

  • Holy Book prophases?

  • death, an afterlife, and the origin and meaning of life?

  • the character, morality, and credibility of some public figures and authorities?

  • how you'll feel tomorrow?

  • people's inherent goodness or badness?

  • what your retirement will be like?

  • global warming and terrorism?

  • what you can and cannot do?

  • UFOs, magic, fairies, guardian angels, and miracles?

      Do you agree that generalizing is a form of assuming? - e.g. "All Englishmen are stolid and unemotional," or "Men only want one thing from a woman."

      Premise - kids and adults automatically make assumptions about living things and the world in order to provide a sense of order. That's partly a defense against being overwhelmed by fear of the unknown, and being unable to understand and prepare for certain events and people. Some assumptions provide hope and a direction in confusing times or relationships ("I know Paco will be late again!"). Other assumptions breed anxiety, hurt, anger, shame, and despair.

      Some assumptions are based on facts, reason, and experience, and others are based on superstition, hunches, emotions, and misinformation. This causes behaviors ranging between beneficial and harmful to the assumer and affected people.

      Some aware people identify their assumptions ("I assume you're not interested in the bull fight."), and others state them as tho they're absolute facts ("Conspirators killed President Kennedy!") The dividing line between assumptions and prejudice can be debatable.

      How do you feel when you're with someone who assumes "too much" or wrongly about you or something else?









      How do you usually react?

















Change the subject

Stop listening

Your reaction probably depends on your personality, your relationship, and the situation. Whatever you do, doe it fill your needs with the person? If not, consider these...

  Response Options

  • Use awareness skill to notice the person is assuming too much or wrongly;

  • Mentally review...

    • these basic options until they become automatic;

    • your mutual rights as dignified persons;

    • how to give effective feedback to another person, and...

    • how to assert and listen effectively.

  • Identify what you feel around the over-assuming person. Your emotions point to what you need.

  • Identify what you need - to vent? Confront? Learn? Discuss? Set or enforce a limit? Give feedback? Correct the other person's assumption? Something else?

If the Person is Over-assuming About You

  • When the time is right, select one or more options like these...

"(Name) are you open to some personal feedback?" If you get "No," you have a different problem than mind-reading.

"Are you aware of how often you make assumptions about me?"

"When you make assumptions about what I think / feel / need / intend I feel _________ (and I need you to stop assuming, and ask me.)"

"You're assuming I _________. When you assume, I feel disrespected and irritated (or whatever)"

"Why do you assume I __________?"

"No, you're wrong (about ________)."

"Try walking a mile in my shoes before you make guesses about me."

"Seems like you're having trouble empathizing with / understanding me."

If the Person is Over-assuming
 About Someone or Something Else

"Do you know that, or are you assuming it?"

"Why do you assume that?"

"I don't think you're considering the whole picture."

"I don't think you know enough / are qualified / have enough information / to assume that."

"I don't agree with your assumption/s."

"I discount your opinions when you assume so much."

  • Notice the theme of these responses (clear, respectful, direct, and brief), and adapt them to your own style.

  • After you respond, expect the other person to "resist" you - i.e. to excuse, explain, argue deny, bluster, go silent, avoid eye contact, whine, etc. Use empathic listening if they do (e.g. "So you think I'm over critical of you.") and then repeat your statement or assertion calmly, with steady eye contact. Do this as often as necessary until you get your needs met or your needs change

      Can you think of someone who "mind reads" you or over-assumes? Imagine using one or more of these responses when your true Self guides you. How do you think the person would feel and react? How would you feel?


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common social behaviors. This article offers perspective on assumptions ("mind reading"), and illustrates effective responses to someone who assumes incorrectly and/or "too much" ("mind reads"). The responses are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude;

  • clarity on your feelings, needs; and mutual rights, and...

  • fluency in the skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening.

     Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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