Assumptions and perceptions

I was asked to sit in on a meeting with family members of a patient.  Communication seemed to have broken down and I was warned that some of the family members – especially the patient’s mother – could be very unpleasant.

As an observer I noticed that the mother frowned a lot.  She spoke very loudly, and sometimes ignored other people when they spoke.

When we had a break, I tried to speak to her.  She frowned at me and said

‘I find these meetings so difficult!  When there’s any background noise at all, often I can’t hear what’s being said.  And often I can’t even place voices so that I might be able to lipread.  At times I don’t even know somebody’s speaking at all.  My hearing problems cause so many other problems…’
Dr J, personal contact

This story rang several bells for me – I too am aware that I have to concentrate really hard to be able to follow any conversation, especially in strange surroundings and most especially with any background noise.  I too may frown when I’m concentrating.  I too can’t tell the direction from which a voice (or any other noise) comes so that I can then lipread.

And, I too am aware that I have no real idea how loudly or quietly I’m speaking – this I know thanks to my daughter gently signalling to speak more quietly or more loudly.  And sometimes I too don’t realise someone has started speaking… also know sometimes I interrupt when someone else is speaking….all because of my deteriorating hearing.

We all make assumptions about people we meet, and about situations – assumptions based on our own experiences, level of current information, knowledge and understanding.

We all make assumptions..
For instance every Wednesday Jim, aged around 4, watched the coalman unloading the huge heavy bags of coal from the lorry, then carrying them one by one on his back to deliver the weekly order to Jim’s house and then to all the neighbours in Jim’s street.  Jim remembers thinking how very hard the coalman must work…digging the coal on the other days of the week to deliver to Jim’s street on Wednesdays.

It was years later that Jim finally discovered during a school lesson that what he’d assumed about the coalman’s work was not quite what happened – but at 4 his assumptions about the work of the coalman fitted with his own level of information; what he didn’t know, he worked out – and assumed that his picture was correct.

Questioning our assumptions?
In common with most people of all ages, Jim didn’t think to question his assumption…just as in the first story, above, the assumption had been made by a group that someone – in this case, the luckless mother – was bad tempered because she frowned and sometimes spoke rather loudly, rather than for any other possible reason.

Initial assumptions
When meeting another person most people make at least a few assumptions, may wonder about whether or not they want to get to know that person better.  Or maybe not.

The assumptions we all make in any situation whether family or social life, or at work – and whether they’re correct and based on fact or not – can make or break a relationship.

* For more on Assumptions and Perceptions, and how they may affect all our everyday lives, in particular at work and at home, see Assumptions and Perceptions 2 in the Members Area.

* To read a whole chapter on ‘Confidentiality’ and another on ‘Assumptions and Perceptions’ which often affect professional/family communication, see ‘Families, Carers and Professionals: Building Constructive Conversations’, published 2007, John Wiley and Sons in Reading Resources.