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.
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!