Do you remember in the movie Office Space when Tom talks about his great ‘million dollar’ idea called the “Jump To Conclusions Mat?” According to Tom, “It would be this mat that you would put on the floor and would have different CONCLUSIONS written on it that you could JUMP TO.”
Not a great idea, like his friends pointed out in the movie, but it also isn't a great idea for us to jump to conclusions in real life as well. When we jump to conclusions in conflict we are putting “2 plus 2 together to make 5” which is never good math and leads to mistrust, communication issues and deeper conflict.
The Catch 22 of Jumping to Conclusions
I’m as guilty as anyone for leaning on my own conclusions to better guard myself against getting hurt, taken advantage of, or being embarrassed (fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me). In an attempt to better prepare ourselves to not get ‘dooped’ or fooled we tend to not trust people’s good intentions or we lack ‘giving them the benefit of the doubt’ when it comes to conflict. This leads us to ‘jump to conclusions.'
The problem is that this puts us in a self-fulfilling catch 22. The catch 22 is that when we make assumptions of people based on their behaviors and motives without confronting them head on (with open conversation and dialogue), we’re actually continuing to fuel our own assumption-making of the person again and again. As they continue to do the problematic behavior this further justifies our future conclusions! This may sound intelligent and protective on our behalf, but if you have ever been in a relationship and continue to put (false at times) motive to a person’s action even before you allow them to ‘face their accuser’ with open conversation and dialogue then you know this is a downfall for many relationships. So if the overall idea of assumption-making is not a good and healthy way to have relationships and conflicts with people why do we do it?
Not to worry, it's not entirely your fault. As humans, for our own survival purposes, we have acquired the skill of forming mental models about the world around us. Mental models are the assumptions & stories which we carry in our minds of ourselves, other people, institutions, & every aspect of the world. Our mental models are unique to each of us. Differences between mental models explain why two people can observe the same event and describe it differently; they are paying attention to different details.
There are six principles to our mental models:
- We all have mental models.
- Mental models determine how and what we see and/or want to see.
- Mental models determine how we think and act.
- They lead us to treat our inferences as facts.
- They are always incomplete and often inaccurate.
- They influence the results we get, thereby reinforcing themselves.
Knowing that our mind will go there based on evolution and as a survival technique but also knowing that it is not a healthy way to build professional or personal relationships, we have power in knowing what we tend to do and then doing something different. Just because we have a preference to do something (form mental models and jump to conclusions) doesn't mean its correct or that we can't build skill (ah leadership!) to get past our lizard brain's attempt at protecting us and create healthier, more open relationships.
This is only half the story. Next post we’ll discuss how our assumptions and mental models make us a climb a Ladder of Inference in conflicts. We’ll also look at ways you can get off the destructive Ladder of Inference and save your relationships.