When in a negotiation, never trust your assumptions. They are likely to be as wrong as right.

Give and Take: The Complete Guide to Negotiating Strategies and Tactics, by Chester L. Karrass, Copyright 1974 by Chester L. Karrass

Early in my career I had the great good fortune of attending the two-day Effective Negotiating seminar presented by Dr. Chester L. Karrass and his Center for Effective Negotiating.  No other educational experience before or since has been as significant nor as useful in its practical application.  I took home the books and audio from that seminar and added to my Karrass library over the years.  More than textbooks, they are practical resources, timeless tools, indispensable in research and strategy planning.  Much of the material became ingrained through use.  I found myself in business situations instinctively reacting with the Karrass principles.  They became a constant presence in my business dealings.  I’ve recommended the seminar and the books to colleagues for years, irrespective of their title or career path.  

One of the tools which became reflexive was this business of placing trust in assumptions.  Even when I thought I understood the reality of a particular business situation, Dr. Karrass reminded me to check my assumptions.  Inquire.  Obtain facts.  Test information.  Verify that what you think you know is true.  Learn all you can about what you don’t know. 

Don’t fall in love with your assumptions. Check them out: They are neither right nor wrong until proven so.

Chester L. Karrass

Any time I allowed myself to believe what I thought I knew, Karrass was there to remind me to check it out.  Even the seemingly obvious could often be found to be something other than it appeared to be.  But a schism remained.  In personal matters, the automatic reaction was never as reliable.

Years ago, Jeni & I found ourselves members of a health club.  Incongruous as that seemed to be with every fiber of our personality and being, the free membership and convenient location presented themselves.  We’d been traveling with some regularity and engaging in a number of new activities.  I saw gym-time as conditioning for our vacations.

I recall a specific conversation about the good stuff we were doing for our still relatively young selves.  We both spoke of the healthy, active life we expected into our retirement years and beyond.  Confidence in this assumption consolidated into something accepted almost as fact.  Reviewing it now, it seems uncharacteristically and surprisingly pretentious, self-congratulatory, perhaps hubristic.  

Enter reality.  

Within the last year, events have proven our assumption about who we might be at this time of life to have been mistaken.  Everything suddenly looked different.

Like many boomers, we have now have arrived at a time in life where changes in our health and our capabilities are beginning to make themselves known.  This is not life-and-death stuff, not even close, but the changes have already altered what we do, what we don’t do, how we feel, how we live.  We are, I suppose, on schedule, but it is not what we had led ourselves to expect.

Since the end of the last job, my mind had been on the long postponed project list for this house and yard, a couple dozen to-do’s.  We have always done the work at this house together.  Her most recent surgeries signaled an end to her part in the shared effort.  This worklist would now be mine to do.  

I’ve never had limitations on the physical stuff.  For tasks demanding hard, physical work, I saw retirement as unlimited amounts of time, time to chip away at each task.  I saw myself doing the work I’ve always done, tearing out landscaping, removing small trees, digging, planting, removing and hauling away the accumulation of stuff stored in basement, garage and closets, stuff we haven’t seen or used for years.  Only on tasks where I lacked specific tools or skills would I hire pros.  Wallboard, for example, I would leave to guys who do that sort of thing every day, guys with capabilities to provide results I could live with, unlike my own.  

All this was based upon yet another unproven assumption.

Reality showed up during my first-ever visit to a cardiology clinic.  I left with knowledge of a previously undiagnosed condition.  As I walked back to the parking garage, the worklist weighed on my mind.  How was I going to do any part of those tasks, knowing what I’d just learned?

“…but I’m a great believer in hesitation.  I think there’s nothing wrong with pausing when you’re not sure how to proceed.”

Ian McEwan
Books That Have Shaped His Novels
Interview by Alec Ash
September 3, 2012

Over a small march of days, it began to seem that, rather than assumptions, what I needed was time, time to let go of the old assumptions, to allow new information to present itself, to allow the changes themselves to unfold.  More than anything else, I needed to trust that more would be revealed.  

After only a month, the weight I carried out of the clinic that first day has lessened.  As an experiment, and on the advice of the cardiologist, I have taken on a couple smaller tasks from my list, and completed them.  

With that result, the worklist itself is now being revised.  In one of my experiments, I did part of it and brought in outside help for the rest.  It turned out well, and got completed faster than if I had tried to do the whole thing myself.  More tasks, or portions of tasks, will be ceded to contractors.  

I need to see things as they are, not as I would like to see them.”  “It’s when I attempt to resist the facts of reality that my life becomes hell.”

Yesterday’s Tomorrow by Barry L., Copyright 1997 by Barry L.

Rather than a moment for alarm, I now find the end of the old robust-retirement assumption to be a moment for reflection, an opportunity to pause, to review, to change focus, to see things as they really are, rather than as I thought they would be.  

I remember conversing with a coworker before the end of the last job.  The words I found then were that our retirement years might just turn out to be something other than what we had imagined but, while different than our expectations, we would still be fine.  

I still believe that.  

Today I’ll try to settle for less than I wish were possible, and be willing to not only accept it but to appreciate it. Today, I’ll not expect too much of anyone – especially myself. I’ll try to remember that contentment comes from gratefully accepting the good that comes to us, and not from being furious at life because it’s not “better.” Do I realize the difference between resignation and realistic acceptance?

May I not set my sights unrealistically high, expect too much. May I be realistic.

Today I Will Remember:

Good is good enough.

© 1989 by Hazelden Foundation


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One Response to Assumptions

  1. Jenifer Hunter says:

    Very, very cool!

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