I’m Positive: How to Avoid Assumptions

I’m Positive:  How to Avoid Assumptions image DATE: July 15, 2021

For Three Stooges fans out there, you’ll probably remember the following bit. If you’re not a fan, hang on — their routine illustrates a common trap business leaders and professionals encounter. These tips will help you avoid the “I’m positive” pitfall.

“I’m Positive” Routine

Their shtick went something like this. 

Larry gives Moe some sort of outlandish information.

Moe responds by asking Larry: “Are you sure about that?”

Larry responds to Moe: “I’m positive!”

Moe then arrogantly says: “Only fools are positive!”

Larry asks: “Are you sure about that?”

To which Moe predictably responds, “I’m positive!” (YouTube captured it here.)

Funny, Not Funny

I find that playful little “give and take” to be funny. But what’s not funny is when this “I’m positive” attitude plays out in real life and ends up hurting professional reputations. 

I recently heard a business executive try to prove a very questionable point by saying, 

“I’m positive this is what he was thinking,” and later, “I‘m absolutely certain that’s what he’s trying to accomplish.”

When pressed for more information by simply asking, “But how do you know for sure?” The executive was stumped. Unable to provide facts, evidence or data to support what was a personal assumption, the best this professional could do was to just keep saying, “I’m positive I’m right.” 

Unfortunately, others weren’t as confident. And sadly, the insistence that this business leader knew — POSITIVELY —  made him look unnecessarily foolish in that moment. Worse still, the other team members beginning to question his overall judgment. 

Avoiding the I’m Positive Trap

So here’s a word of caution and guidance for any of us who are tempted to fall into the same trap. As it pertains to human behavior — assume nothing, explore everything.

Though tempted to assume that you positively know why someone is speaking or behaving in a particular way, don’t foolishly act on unsupported assumptions. Because a team member missed excessive work six months ago due to marital conflict does not mean recent absences are related.

  • Assume nothing.

They might be — but what if they’re not? And what if you spoke or made important decisions as a result? You’d look unnecessarily foolish to all involved. Others know you could have — you should have — checked before assuming and acting upon the assumptions

  • Explore everything.

Exploring means intentionally seeking out information to confirm your assumptions. It involves talking with people individually, one-on-one, concerning things for which you need a clearer, more definitive understanding.

Never, I repeat never, assume you have it all figured out on your own. You don’t!

Remember the old saying? There are two sides to every story. Good leaders and professional business people consider both. So, before taking any critical action, commit to learning as much as you can first.

  • Initiate a conversation. 
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Double check facts to get confirmation on critical points and details.

Do all these things before declaring positively that which you really don’t know.

It may be funny when stooges like Moe, Larry and Curly did so. But the humor is harder to find when business professionals follow suit. No fooling — I’m positive.

Don’t assume. Explore ways to ensure your people lead and serve well. Learn more here.

About The Author:

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on engaged leadership and communication. His most recent book is “We Need to Talk: Building Trust When Communicating Gets Critical." Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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