Faulty Assumptions

August, 2013 Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter

Whenever John’s supervisor pointed out an error in his work, John panicked. Surely, this meant that he was about to be fired! He would fix the mistake, then wait anxiously at his desk for his boss to “give me the ax.” Each time that Lisa was given an assignment, she treated it as urgent. She would stop what she was doing, begin the new task, then become agitated when she fell behind on other projects. Steven was ready to give up his job search. After two weeks of sending out resumes, he still had not been invited for an interview. Steven concluded that he would never find work.

John, Lisa and Steven were drawing conclusions based on faulty assumptions. An assumption is a belief that is accepted as true, without any proof. There are times when assumptions are quite helpful. I can confidently assume that driving on the wrong side of the road will cause an accident, without having to create a wreck to prove it. However, assumptions can also be unreasonable, illogical or dangerous. They can cause a person to make poor decisions, miss opportunities, and experience emotional turmoil.

Although anyone can fall into the trap of making faulty assumptions, people with Asperger’s Syndrome or Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) are particularly susceptible. This is largely due to the inherent difficulty recognizing situational context, and inferring what other people are thinking or intending. Inaccurate assumptions may be based on the wrong piece of information, or misunderstanding the motive behind someone’s actions. Additionally, the Aspergian tendency toward black-and-white thinking makes it hard to view situations objectively.

John’s habit of all-or-nothing thinking was behind his assumption that a single, minor mistake could cause his termination. He was unable to consider information to the contrary, such as the fact that everyone in his group made errors from time to time, and none had ever been let go.

Lisa associated “new assignment” with “top priority,” based on the mistaken belief that any task from her supervisor was a rush. She was prioritizing based on the wrong criteria.

Steven’s job search was hindered by his belief that a college education meant immediate employment. He initially didn’t see that his assumption was unreasonable, and was ready to stop looking before his job search had really begun.

You can learn to challenge a faulty assumption, and replace it with a thought that is more accurate and effective. The sure way to identify a faulty assumption is the lack of evidence that supports it. When I asked John for proof that making a minor mistake would get him fired, he couldn’t find any. However, he was able to find evidence to the contrary. John had been employed with the company for over three years, received good performance reviews, and had never been reprimanded by his supervisor. Previous mistakes resulted in no more than a simple correction.

Lisa challenged her assumption about priorities by reviewing her assignments from the past month. She thought about them in terms of their relevance to the functioning of her department. Then, she categorized each assignment as either Urgent (immediate action required), Due Soon (complete within five business days), and “ATA” (do as time allows). When she was done, only one assignment was in the urgent column. Lisa accepted that her previous assumption was inaccurate, and based on her anxiety about managing her workload.

Finally, job seeker Steven agreed to research effective search strategies, and the average amount of time it takes to get hired. It was soon clear that his expectations were unreasonable, and that he needed to create a longer-term plan.

Next month in the Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, I’ll discuss a process for challenging faulty assumptions that may be slowing down your job search, or contributing to problems at your job. Before then, examine assumptions you are making, and whether you can find solid, objective evidence that they are true.


© 2013, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching.