Don’t Commit Assumicide

One of my writing mentors told me: "Effective writing is CLEAR writing."

If you mean what you write, and you write what you mean, you’re an effective communicator.

When it comes to the written word, I’ve spent every day of my career attempting to write CLEARLY.

This is especially the case in one-way communication like writing. Your reader does not always have a chance to easily ask a clarifying question.

The focus on clarity also applies to one-on-one verbal communication.

Whether you’re speaking to a boss, co-worker, vendor, spouse, neighbor or family member, good verbal communication is clear communication.

If you say what you mean, the other person heard what you said, and understood what you meant -- that is clear communication. Similarly, if the other person said what he meant, and you heard what he said, and understood what he meant -- that too is good communication.

Here’s where problems emerge.

Most people aren’t always sure what they mean. Most people try to say what they mean, but sometimes they don’t say it very clearly. If you hear what was said, but it could be interpreted one of three or four different ways, you only understand what the other person might have meant.

Poor communication is vague communication. Poor communication is communication that could be interpreted in more ways than one.

However, the wonderful thing about verbal communication is that you and your conversation partner can ask each other questions. It is a wonderful gift that that we writers very much envy.


Many people that have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions don’t actually do so.

When you don’t clarify vague or imprecise communication, you are forced to make assumptions.

Are the words you think you heard what the other person genuinely meant?

If you aren’t 100% sure and 100% clear on what was meant, then you are committing assumicide.

By making assumptions, you’re both killing the potential positive outcome of the conversation and damaging the relationship.

When your boss says, "Get this done immediately," and it’s Friday at 5pm... did she mean literally right now before you go home? Did she mean work over the weekend? Or did she mean first thing Monday morning? Assume at your own risk.

When your spouse is upset at you and says, “We’ll talk about it later.” Did he mean in an hour? Tomorrow? Next week? Or was “later” a secret code for "never"? Assume at your own risk.

When an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time says, “We should get together for lunch.”

Did she literally mean, "Email or text me when you are free and let's schedule lunch"? Or did she mean theoretically, "Lunch would be nice, but I’m so busy -- please don’t call me"? Or did she mean, "It’s nice to say hi to you, I don’t really want to make the effort to see you again, but I’m too embarrassed to tell you the truth," and "Please don’t call me because I won’t be calling you"?

Assume at your own risk.

(By the way, never say, “Let’s meet for lunch” to someone unless you... well... actually want to get lunch together. Instead say, “It was nice seeing you. I will see you when I see you.” That’s because it is clear communication. You don’t make any promises that you do not intend to keep. It keeps the integrity of your word. It acknowledges the unexpected bumping into one another, without implying anything more. It is honest.)

Notice how in each scenario, assumptions lead to confusion, incorrect expectations, disappointment, and therefore cause some damage to the relationship. If repeated communications are laced with assumptions, that’s a sure path to assumicide — the death of a relationship due to repeated assumption making.

Based on the last 72 hours, might you be committing assumicide without even realizing it?

It’s worth thinking about...

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1 comment… add one
  • Carlton Jan 21, 2017, 2:30 pm

    I heard this word for the first time, just today. You did a great job of making it practical and observable.

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