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The 2 Things I've Learned From My ASS-umptions

Image via Dudarev Mikhail/

My husband and I live is a suburb of Washington, D.C. Over the years we’ve witnessed a wide spectrum of disturbances, ranging from the serious (gang and drug activity) to the less serious (zoning violations). Among those lesser nuisances (and a big pet peeve of mine) is the sheer volume of cars in our neighborhood.  

Cars Make Me Crazy

It’s not uncommon to see a house with six or more cars all trying to park in the driveway of a single-family home built in the 1950s, back when there was typically one car per family. What some see as a violation of neighborhood norms, (i.e. “we don’t park cars on the lawn”) others see as being perfectly acceptable (i.e. “Not enough room in the driveway? I’ll park on the grass where there is plenty of space!”)  Though it drives me crazy (almost literally, as you’ll soon see), I also know it’s perfectly acceptable to those who do. They’re operating from a different perspective—a different reality. 

Warning: Dangerous People Live Here (Not!)

As my husband and I were out walking our two dogs the other night we saw a car parked in front of a house, the front covering part of the sidewalk and the back hanging into the street.  

“Seriously?” I thought. 

Were it not for the fact I was holding a leash attached to a 70-pound dog I might have gone into orbit – I was over-the-top furious.  Meanwhile, my husband (who is my very needed rational half), didn’t think a thing of this obviously terrible situation. His inability to see the problem only enhanced my rage—I would again have to swing into action and right this violation of “neighborhood norms.”  

My assumptions – my reality – said, “that person has no regard for our community and people like that are reckless and therefore dangerous.”  I was already preparing to call the non-emergency number—fist clenching my cell phone as I made note of the address. As the neighborhood’s self-appointed enforcer of norms and moonlighting meter maid, I would once again save the day (thank goodness for me!). 

As we approached, I saw who I assumed to be the owner of the car. “You can’t park like that!” I yelled.

“Oh, I know,” she replied  “I was backing out to go to the grocery store and my car stalled.”

HER reality stopped me cold. Anger gave way to embarrassment. I felt like a jerk.

“I’m really sorry.  I hope I didn’t offend you…I get so frustrated with the parking situation in the neighborhood.” She said she shared the same frustrations, told us she was waiting for AAA to arrive, and we bid each other goodnight.

My husband and I walked home, grabbed the jumper cables and went back to help the woman get her car started. A few days later my husband was out walking the dogs and coincidentally saw the same woman. She handed him a handwritten notecard thanking us for helping her. Sigh.  

All of this reminded me that:

  1. We create our reality and it may not be the truth. When we spend too much time attached to the idea that our reality is the truth, we cut ourselves off from another’s reality – their truth.  My reality was “that person doesn’t follow the rules and might be dangerous.”  Her reality was “it’s 9:00 at night, I need something from the grocery store, my car broke down in the middle of the street and I’m waiting for AAA.” Because I learned what was so for her, I saw my reality was not the truth – and I was able to actually help. 
  2. A hammer can help us bust up our assumptions. It’s important to have people around us who are willing to challenge our assumptions and stories:  ask someone to lend you a hammer and do bit of demo on those stories you’re so attached to. Once you bust them up, focus on the facts and see what’s left, you may realize how off you are—and how your inflexibility only hampered your contributions. Like me, you may find that sketchy person parked in the road was actually a stranded neighbor on their way to the grocery store. That hammer might also save you from being the jerk I was the other night—my assumptions making an ass out of me  

What assumptions have you recently had busted up? How do you see assumptions inhibit effectiveness in the workplace?  

(Image via Dudarev Mikhail/

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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