We still assume


A knackered knee.

Interesting how something so banal can shift your view of the world around you and, the point of this blog, make people jump to conclusions about you.

Ah assumptions. This is not the first time I’ve blogged about assumptions this year.

I damaged my knee in a ski-ing accident when I was still at school. It has plagued me since but most of the time I can just get on with it. I have a brilliant and holistic physio – who I go to see for a few weeks every couple of years. She sorts it and then I just get on with things. But on a couple of occasions, including now, it has become more of a problem. And it leads to some interesting encounters.

Back in 1993 I ended up having a knee operation. I think you could categorise it as “arthroscopy plus”. Once I was OK to return to work I found myself, for the first time in my life, in public on crutches. When I asked a guy (who had been hiding behind his paper) for a seat on the Tube he made a big show of harrumphing and asking me why I needed a seat more than him. I was a bit more facetious in those days so I replied that I was pregnant. I got the seat. And to this day try to look out for people who need a seat more than I do.

Why am I reminded of this? Well right now I cannot bend my knee properly so, back on the Tube with all that it can entail, my leg sticks out a bit. In one week the number of people who have trodden on me, or become agitated, or tutted, or aggressively asked me to move my leg has been noteworthy. When I reply that I can’t some say – “you mean you won’t”. Another said “typical man”. The well of human empathy has clearly dried up.

I had some time to reflect on this. I just think that too many of us jump to incorrect assumptions about other people. We don’t slow down our automatic thought processes and entertain the possibility that something might be going on for the person in front of us. This might be in the work-place, in a pub, ‘out and about’ or anywhere really.

So if you are facing a challenge right now, maybe with a colleague or someone in your team, are you setting out to understand what is happening for them or are you defaulting to some (incorrect?) assumptions?

My suggestion remains:

Slow down.


Listen again.

Keep on listening.

Listen to understand.


Challenge yourself – are you making 2 + 2 = 20?

Work harder.

Much harder.

Be curious.

There’s a really interesting and complex world around you – but if you just narrow things down to fit in with your world-view then it’s that bit less interesting and you’re not going navigate it as adeptly as you could. You’re going to get some things wrong which, I believe, you are fully capable of getting right.


2 thoughts on “We still assume

  1. It seems to me that something happens down in the tube that strips out empathy replacing it with self-serving introspection guiding behaviour…like we are dehumanised as we enter the machine.
    I’d like to think the same ignorance of others doesn’t happen overground. Do you have any counter stories?

    I recently rode a motor scooter 3 miles, for necessity but I also thought it would be fun. Without realising my own ignorance; it was eye opening. The looks from others, the hedges and edges crossing the paths, and the way cars block pavements – didn’t mean much before.

  2. I think that, if you look the evolution of our species, we simply were not designed to be crammed into close proximity with so many others. And, what’s worse, underground. So whilst we adapt, we find ourselves needing consciously to adjust our behaviour. That is stressful and not necessarily sustainable on a daily basis. But it’s when you find yourself needing a bit more empathy from those around you that you really notice it.
    And there are, of course, those who are simply rude and ill-mannered. But I don’t think most people are either of those things at their best.
    Using the Tube as an analogy is just that – an analogy of how we are at work (or elsewhere) when stressed. Do we engage? Do we listen? Do we simply assume? Do we slow down our automatic responses?
    If the answer is No – then what is our impact as a colleague or as a leader?

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