Assuming the Liability of Assumptions…or Something Like That

I can’t recall the steps to proper research methodology, but I do remember one thing my Research Psychology professor told the class on the first day.  Are you ready for this?

“Don’t ever assume.  It makes an ASS out of U and ME.”

I think the shock that he cursed in class glued the phrase to my brain.  My parents must be so proud to know that several hundred dollars spent on course enrollment and text books yielded this single pearl of wisdom that has stayed with me all these years.  My glass is half full, though:  at least I have a memento from this class – I dumped every last bit of Brief Calculus outside the classroom door after my final exam.

A diskette...anyone remember these?

Even though I’ve never forgotten this advice, I haven’t always adhered to it.  Several years into my insurance career, I had mailed a diskette to an agent’s office with files to update their policy issuance system.  I included what I thought were detailed instructions on installing the files.  Still, they called me because the files wouldn’t install.

Over the phone, I walked the woman through the process.  She told me the computer was making lots of noise, but nothing else was happening.  I commented that I had tested the diskette before mailing it, so I was concerned that it got damaged in the mail.  Then she asked me, “Oh, was I supposed to put that square thing in the computer?”

Um, well….I had assumed.

Over the many years I have been doing my job, I have learned to word my communications carefully so as not to cause undue confusion.  I write to the level of the least familiar user and pay special attention to how sentences are structured.  This training is an asset at work, but a curse in real life, because I can’t stop myself from over-analyzing the simplest of statements.

A couple of recent examples:

  • Over the weekend, we received an email regarding an upcoming Cub Scout meeting.  Within the email, was this instruction:  “Bring Webelos Handbook and Class A Uniform.”

This is the first meeting since the recruitment session we went to, so I am clueless.  I wondered if they meant to bring the book and wear the uniform, or just to bring both (in case they would like to explain patch-placement to us newbies.)  I was forced to ask what could be perceived as a dumb question, because they (wrongly) assumed that I would know.  (If you’re curious, they wanted my son to wear the uniform.)

  • I get a fair number of emails from businesses trying to sell me stuff.  I don’t open most of them, but last week, one  got my attention.  The subject line read:  “Buy A Jacket, Get Pants Half Off.”

My first thought?  Thanks anyway, but I prefer to wear my pants fully.

I know what they meant, but the word order made me chuckle.  They assumed their message was clear, but they must have realized the ambiguity because a couple days later, I received another enticing email with this subject line:  “Buy A Jacket, Get 50% Off Pants.”  This was a much more attractive offer.  Nobody wants to see me with pants half off 🙂

Do you have a story where assuming got you into trouble?  Do you over-analyze what you read (or am I just weird?)  What surprising piece of advice have you found most useful in your life?  I’d love to read if you’re willing to share!


27 thoughts on “Assuming the Liability of Assumptions…or Something Like That

  1. SuziCate September 13, 2011 / 6:42 AM

    Yes, assuming usually does exactly that to me!

    • jannatwrites September 13, 2011 / 8:36 PM

      Most misunderstandings come from assumptions (in my experience, at least.)

  2. The Good Greatsby September 13, 2011 / 8:23 AM

    After so many years of schooling, it seems there were only a handful of lessons I really remembered and retained, and I’m not sure any of these were considered the most important points by any of my professors.

    • jannatwrites September 13, 2011 / 8:45 PM

      Welcome, The Good Greatsby! I remember the most random and useless information. The important stuff gets filed away, but I can’t remember where it’s stored.

  3. Richard W Scott September 13, 2011 / 12:06 PM

    Fun post.

    I love catching things like that on the radio (a wonderful playground for the mind, as you aren’t distracted by someone else’s pictures).

    • jannatwrites September 13, 2011 / 8:46 PM

      Thanks, Richard! I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds these things amusing 🙂

  4. Carl D'Agostino September 13, 2011 / 12:42 PM

    If you co-sign and they scoot, you will be assuming a lot

    • jannatwrites September 13, 2011 / 8:47 PM

      That is a big assumption, Carl. One I don’t care to make 😉

  5. Debbie September 13, 2011 / 12:51 PM

    Funny stuff, Janna. We who are in the business of communicating often find it amusing that others don’t take such care with words. And yes, I remember diskettes — thank heaven they’re a thing of the past!

    • jannatwrites September 13, 2011 / 8:51 PM

      Thank you, Debbie!

      I ran across a bunch of diskettes in my desk a couple months ago. We just destroyed them all because our computer doesn’t have a the drive to read them 🙂

  6. nrhatch September 13, 2011 / 1:48 PM

    I get poorly worded e-mails all the time from a “certain someone” who shall remain nameless ~ hereinafter, “she-who-must-not-be-named.”

    Usually, it doesn’t matter.
    Because no action is required on my part.

    Sometimes, it does matter.
    And I am required to ask for clarification.
    Often more than once.
    It gets old.

    Sometimes, I act on the e-mail as worded.
    Just for FUN.
    Until she-who-must-not-be-named realizes HOW and WHERE we got off track.

    She-who-must-not-be-named doesn’t always appreciate my sense of humor.
    So what! I appreciate it!

    If I didn’t laugh, she-who-must-not-be-named would drive me insane.

    Bottom line: you’re not weird (even if you do get your pants half off). 😉

    • jannatwrites September 13, 2011 / 8:56 PM

      Well, Nancy, I suspect I know who “she-who-must-not-be-named” is. I believe I have read some of her comments on your blog and Richard’s blog. I couldn’t make heads or tails of some of them, but then I do read late at night, so I like to keep it simple 🙂

      Laughter is a great way to keep insanity at bay. I must do it more often! I might still be weird, but I am glad to know that others look for oddities in communication, although only a select few get their pants half off.

      • nrhatch September 14, 2011 / 8:03 AM

        Keep on laughing! 😆

        • jannatwrites September 14, 2011 / 6:09 PM

          Of course, Nancy. I’m laughing and I don’t even know why!

  7. sonsothunder September 14, 2011 / 2:06 AM

    Diskette? Heck, I remember when Texas Instruments,a Japanese electronics firm’s, ( Go Figure) hand held electronic Calculator, known as the Pocketronic was to be the last technological advancement ever needed in school, or the work place.

    Sadly, Janna, It probably shouldn’t surprise us as to how many “Off-Color” adds, and emails are purposely worded that way as a distinct marketing technique to catch us with our… pants down?

    I could go on, but, then…I might disclose the name of she – who -must-not-be-named.

    God Bless You All

    • jannatwrites September 14, 2011 / 6:06 PM

      Okay, I wasn’t familiar with the Pocketronic, but I Googled it and discovered it is a dinosaur. I feel a little ripped off in my education, because no teacher EVER let us use a calculator. All that wasted pencil lead and paper and I still count on my fingers. What a waste 😉

      I prefer not to be caught with my pants down (or half off – whatever the case may be) so I usually ignore emails employing those tactics.

      Thanks for visiting,Sonsothunder. I like your restraint in leaving before you named the not-to-be-named!

  8. Patty September 14, 2011 / 5:54 AM

    I loved the pictures of assume. very well put and ha ha!

    • jannatwrites September 14, 2011 / 6:07 PM

      I’m glad you got a chuckle from it, Patty. I may forget the name of the person I just met five minutes ago, but I’ll never forget ‘assume’ 🙂

  9. Tori Nelson September 14, 2011 / 7:06 AM

    I’ve never liked my pants half-off, either 🙂

    • jannatwrites September 14, 2011 / 6:08 PM

      So good to know I’m not alone in the desire to be fully pants-ed, Tori 🙂

  10. SAS Fiction Girl September 14, 2011 / 9:18 AM

    I am *assuming* that jacket/pants offer was from Coldwater Creek. 😉

    • jannatwrites September 14, 2011 / 6:10 PM

      How did you know, Jen? I would *assume* that you got the email, too, but I’d hate to be a donkey.

        • jannatwrites September 15, 2011 / 8:49 PM

          Ah, my assumption was correct…this time 🙂

          Did you go for the pants half off, Jen?

  11. pattisj September 14, 2011 / 1:29 PM

    I’m really curious as to what was making the noise if she hadn’t inserted the diskette into the slot. I received an email with that bit of wisdom regarding assuming, and it has also stuck with me. I’m glad it didn’t come with a soundtrack that would give me a song headache every time I thought of the phrase. I have stories, but I try to forget those. I don’t know if you’d call it over-analyzing, or if I am just trying to make sense of what I’m reading.

    • jannatwrites September 14, 2011 / 6:20 PM

      When the diskette slot is empty, the computer makes odd noises while ‘searching’ for the diskette. Ugly noise!

      Aw, come on, Patti, no assuming stories to share? Maybe next time 🙂

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