Assumptions Are Communication Killers

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills. 

The ability to engage in meaningful conversation is a key communication success skill.  As I always tell my executive coaching clients, assumptions can kill a conversation.  As I write this, I’m reminded of one of my favorite George Bernard Shaw plays, You Never Can Tell.

Mr. Bohun is a character in the play.  He is a know-it-all.  He repeats the line, “you think you do, but you don’t” several times in the play.

What does this have to do with assumptions?  Everything, in my book.  As we engage people in conversation, we often think we know everything about them – their backgrounds, motivations, likes and dislikes.  Unfortunately, we think we do, but usually we don’t.

Here is a story that I often tell when I am speaking to my executive coaching clients. 

Rob Likoff is a friend of mine.  He is a partner in a very successful internet marketing services business, Group DCA.  Rob lives in New York City and is a huge New York Knicks fan.  That is a tough road these days.  If you’re not a basketball fan, the Knicks are the professional basketball team in New York.

Rob is such a fan that he has Knicks’ vanity license plates on both of his cars.  These plates have the Knicks logo in the middle.  One has the letters FST BRK (fast break – a basketball term) on either side of the logo.  The other has the letters SLM DNK (slam dunk – another basketball term) on either side of the logo.

One day, Rob was with a woman client.  They were going to lunch, and were taking his car with the SLM DNK plates.  As they approached the car, she said, “Have you met many women with your license plate?”

Rob thought this was kind of strange, and said, “No, why do you ask?”

She replied, “Because of what it says.”

Rob said, “What do you think it says?”

She said, “Simple, Single Ladies Man, Divorced No Kids.”

Pretty bizarre, right?  Wrong.  Both Rob and his clients thought they knew what the license plate said, but they didn’t.  Rob is a basketball fan.  He assumed that anyone seeing a license plate with the Knicks logo in the middle and the letters SLM DNK would automatically know that it meant “slam dunk.”

His client was a 30 something, single woman.  She had mentioned to him on another occasion that she feels her biological clock ticking.  She would like to get married and start a family.  If you look at it from her point of view, you can see where “slam dunk” would mean “single ladies man, divorced no kids.”

In other words, they both thought they knew, but they didn’t.

And that’s the common sense point for today.  Assumptions can really derail a conversation.  Don’t make assumptions about the other person when you are in conversation.  If you find you are making assumptions, test them out.  Ask, “Why do you thing that is so?”  Remember, in many cases you really don’t know what the other person is thinking or feeling.  To quote Bernard Shaw, “You think you do; but you don’t."

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  I am not posting regularly on my blog right now, as I want to concentrate on this one.  It is still up though.  Please don’t cancel your RSS feed as I will be posting there occasionally.  And, you can still get a free ebook version of my book 4 Secrets of High Performing Organizations by visiting

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.


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