Dr Livingston, I presume…

Monday, October 7th, 2013 by Cliff.

Presumption and assumption can be difficult to manage.

We like to take shortcuts and get what we want quicker.  We Presume and assume every day but when we are dealing with Emotional Intelligence, body language and Credibility, we really can’t afford to take short cuts.

Many of us use the words presume and assume interchangeably, I know I often did, but they do have slightly different meanings.

Presumption is to make an estimation of what is going to happen based on past history.  Assumption is to make an estimation of what is going to happen based on no actual evidence at all.

Perhaps we could say in this case then that presumption would be the preferred choice, after all it is based on past history and certainly when we look for signs of emotional changes we are using a form of presumption in our established baseline.  We set a baseline on someone’s normal operating levels and we would presume that this would remain consistent throughout our dealings with that person. It is where that presumption falls down that we start to get a hotspot being recognised.   In a way presumption is essential for what we do in assessing someone’s emotional behaviours.

Assumption on the other hand has no basis in past history or fact.  We make most of our assumptions of others based on how we would behave in situations.  “Well if they were me I would…”  You may here this termed as ME Theory.  This is a very easy situation to fall into.  We all regard the universe through our own perspectives.  We have ideas of how things should happen and work based on our own theories and experiences.  The danger is that we start to project that view of the universe on other people.  How surprising it is to us then when they do something that we would not do.

Assumption is one of the reasons that we must always try our best to look at alternative explanations for what we are seeing.  We may be able to clearly see that someone is demonstrating sadness, but can we be sure what the cause of that sadness is?  There are a lot of books on body-language analysis out there that define exactly what a certain body language posture means.  The classic interpretation of the folded arms would be a defensive gesture with the arms covering the chest.  We have probably all heard this described before by many people and read it in many books on the subject.  We should be considering the possibility of other options: could they be cold, is that their baseline, perhaps their arm or shoulder is sore?  Any and many other options are possibilities and to assume that they are being defensive without checking other possibilities can lead to complications further down the line.

We go on about “context is the key” and when it comes to jumping to conclusions we need to always take context into consideration.  Testing the hypothesis of why something is happening should take into consideration the context, the baseline, the secondary influences and the personal influences; we should then be checking our hypothesis to make sure that we have not put any personally influenced assumptions into it.

Taking the ‘me’ out of the process can be very tricky indeed, and we have to consider if we can ever truly be unbiased, as we do spend a lot of our time assessing things based on our own perspectives of the universe, but we should always do our best to try.

Let us not also forget that we can apply bias based on our emotional connection to others.  We are inclined to give the “benefit of the doubt” to those we care about, could this be because we wouldn’t like to think that someone is being dishonest with us?  It is often noted that the last person to find out a lack of monogamy is the cuckold partner, though the signs are there are they applying a bias to prevent them seeing the truth?

Over the years I have been guilty of making assumptions and putting ‘me’ into the hypothesis, and it is still something I have to consciously register to make sure that I am being as unbiased as possible.  Focussing on just the facts is a skill in its own right, but one that certainly deserves attention.

Cliff Lansley
Article by Cliff Lansley

Expert in emotional intelligence, behavioral analysis and high stake deception detection contexts. Cliff holds; B Ed (Hons), MIOD, MABPsych, Cert Ed.

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