Big Embarrassing Mistake and Pitfalls of Assumptions
Last month I was in Japan to give a workshop and I made a terrible mistake that had me feeling mortified and embarrassed.
In this podcast I share the dirt: what happened, how I recovered, and what I learned from the experience.
Assumptions have the power to undermine our communication, negotiation, and leadership.
What are three dangerous assumptions that bully us silent and compromise our results? How can we shine light on our cognitive blindspots so that we show up powerfully without making assumptions?
Full Episode Transcript
Hello! Welcome to episode number 23. This is Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. I’m your host and coach, Jamie Lee.
Yep! You’re born to thrive.
Yes, you are.
And in order to thrive, you need to ask for what you desire. That requires leadership. That requires negotiation. And that’s what we talk about here on this podcast.
Today, I am going to eat some humble pie.
What I mean by that is I have a rather embarrassing mistake that I recently made that I would like to share with you. And I made this embarrassing mistake due to some assumptions and so let’s also have a chat about some assumptions we make and how those assumptions may be undermining our negotiation and leadership success.
Finally, I want to invite you to a powerful coaching experience with me because I want to dispel some of the assumptions, I want to question the assumptions and also help you shine some light on some potential blind spots that you may have so that you can have a breakthrough.
So, it’s been awhile since I’ve been on this podcast. It’s been about two weeks, and it’s because I was traveling in Singapore where I have family now. I’m not originally from Singapore, I’m actually from South Korea, but now that we live in a global age, I now have a family in Singapore.
It’s great! It was really hot but it was also beautiful. And Japan, I visited, I lived in Japan 15 years ago as a junior year abroad student and so I speak a little bit of Japanese, I’m familiar with Japanese culture and it was so wonderful to be back and be immersed in it and eat delicious food and see the beautiful sights. Highly, highly recommend.
And I gave a workshop, but I made a mistake. I made what you would call a classic facepalm mistake.
So, here’s what happened. It’s Sunday. It’s May 20th. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon. It’s warm, it’s bright, it’s a beautiful day in Tokyo and I’m on my way to facilitate a workshop for the Japan Smith College Alumnae club.
I’m feeling really great.
I’m feeling really awesome.
I had just landed in Tokyo that morning after a red-eye flight from Singapore and I had intentionally booked a hotel that was within walking distance of the workshop venue because I intended to get there on time and to my surprise, once you download a Google Maps app while you have wi-fi connectivity on your iPhone, the app will store a local cache version of that route.
So that means the blue dot that you follow when you try to navigate using Google Maps App? It will still work when you have your phone on airplane mode, which I did to save money. I didn’t want to spend an exorbitant amount of money on international roaming charges while I was traveling in Asia.
And so, I’m feeling great. I just checked into the hotel at 3:00 in the afternoon after a red-eye flight, showered, got dressed, I’m walking in this beautiful Tokyo city and my Google Maps app is working! I’m following the blue dot to my venue by foot.
It’s 4:30. I’m thinking I’m gonna get there half an hour early because I’m thinking the workshop starts at 5:00.
And when I get there, to the venue, much to my surprise, everyone - everyone who signed up, everyone who organized - they’re there.
They’re waiting for me.
It turned out they had been waiting a very long time.
And no, it’s not because the Japanese are hyper-punctual, it’s because I had made a terrible mistake. The workshop was scheduled to start at hour 1500 in military time, which is 3:00 in civil or what we use here in the United States.
And I misread it. I misread 1500 military time for 5:00 pm.
It’s so embarrassing. Without realizing it, I had acted from an assumption of false consensus. It’s just a fancy word that means that I was acting out of bias. Cognitive bias. I’m thinking that my interpretation or misinterpretation of time is how everyone else has interpreted the schedule.
And based on this unquestioned thinking, my brain overlooked the obvious and the explicit, because hour 15 was communicated to me in email and yeah, I read it and I thought it was 5:00 pm.
It’s inexcusable. It’s my brain being lazy, thinking out of convenience and habit and I acted out of that blind spot.
I was mortified. I get there and everyone is there. So graciously, still waiting after an hour and a half in delay.
I was shocked.
I know some Japanese, so I apologized in Japanese to these gracious, patient, amazing women who are also bilingual. I said, “Moshi wake arimasen!” It’s the polite way of saying “I’m sorry.”
And standing in front of my audience and organizers, I now had a choice. I could indulge in my feelings of shame and ineptitude. Oh my God, Oh my God, how stupid can I be?!
Or I could do my best given the circumstances and given the last 30 minutes remaining out of two hours that were allotted for this workshop.
So I just dove right in.
I didn’t have a choice.
I went straight into the key points.
I tried to manage, just put down the feelings of shame and ineptitude. I’ll deal with it later when I get back to my hotel room.
And you know what? In spite of my blunder, my huge embarrassing blunder, the event went well and I think that really speaks to the caliber of the women who came to this workshop.
And we had a rich, hour-long discussion because the organizer so graciously allowed us to extend the workshop by another half-hour and we had a discussion on communication best practices for leaders. How do we show up as leaders in our day to day communication? How do we engage with curiosity, with genuine curiosity? How do we really listen, not just passive-aggressively listen, not just listen for our turn to speak, but really listen and hear our counterparts? And how do we give acknowledgment for who people are and not just what people do?
Thinking back on this experience, I’m back home in New York City, I’m very grateful. I feel very humbled. Very humbled. I had made a terrible assumption and I didn’t even know it.
Assumptions have the power to sabotage our results. And I think I gave you a very vivid example of how that’s possible. But it’s especially the case when we communicate with other people, when we negotiate, when we lead other people.
We all have our blind spots. We make wrong assumptions and there are holes in our research, holes in our knowledge, and sometimes these are the unknown unknowns that we don’t know until we find out through something going wrong.
If you aren’t aware of these assumptions, they have the potential to derail your negotiation outcomes. At Wharton, which is a business school at the University of Pennsylvania, there is a professor there, Richard Shell who says there are three types of assumptions that can really negatively impact your negotiation.
So, I wanted to share those three negative assumptions with you and share how I see examples of that in my client work and in my interactions with workshop attendees and then I want to tell you about some positive assumptions I make and then finally, invite you to a powerful coaching experience.
So the three types of assumptions that can negatively impact your negotiations according to Wharton professor Richard Shell are:
Number one: Assuming that a high level of conflict exists where there necessarily is not one in the negotiation.
Number two: Assuming that everybody thinks the same way. I made this mistake. I assumed that everybody thinks - or to be more precise, doesn’t think - the way I didn’t think.
Number three: Overestimating the other party’s power and/or underestimating your own.
Oof. Yeah. That’s a big one.
So, how do I see this in my work? I often see that these dangerous assumptions hold us back from speaking up, from engaging, from braving difficult conversations.
Take, for example, number one: assuming that a high level of conflict exists where there necessarily is not one. Let me give you an example. Earlier this week, I conducted a short and informal survey of women attorneys whom I will be speaking to next week about negotiation and I asked them some simple questions.
How do you engage in negotiation? What’s holding you back?
And 65% of the women who answered this survey said that they manage to negotiate, they don’t really like it, but they do it when they absolutely have to. About the same number of people said that the biggest barrier to their desired negotiation outcome is the fear of gender blowback.
The fear of negative feedback.
The fear of being rejected.
The fear of being judged as aggressive, as greedy.
It was very interesting to me that people didn’t say limited resources, people didn’t say I don’t have an open channel with people who make those decisions, people didn’t say I don’t know what to ask for.
So many people - about 65% of the people - said that it’s the fear of being judged, of being called something that is deemed unfeminine and therefore undesirable. It’s unfortunate that we still struggle with this gender stereotype and yet, we do.
What this informed me, what I make out of this data, is that probably the same amount of people who manage to negotiate when they absolutely have to, they are missing out on opportunities to speak up. They are not recognizing that they do have a voice and that they can ask for what they want because they are waiting until they absolutely have to.
And why? Because they assume that there is going to be conflict and this assumption of conflict creates fear that creates resistance that creates avoidance.
We often assume the worst in people when we are anxious about a high stakes conversation. And I am including myself. I am also working through this myself. But why don’t we assume the best? Why don’t we assume that people do want to hear from us, people do want to help us, and that people do want to see us happy, succeeding and thriving and have an open, honest conversation with us?
Number two: assuming that everybody thinks the same way. A lot of people I know, a lot of high-achieving, high-performing people that I know and talk with and consult and coach have assumptions that people should behave, that people should react, that people should speak in ways that they would.
But not everyone does. In fact, hardly anyone does because, let’s face it, other people are out of our control. The only thing that we can control is ourselves, our own behaviors, our own actions, our own words.
And also, since we’re talking about gender stereotypes and gender bias, I think it’s so dangerous when we have internalized negative opinions about women who compete, about women who promote themselves, women who speak with a loud voice and advocate for what they want and then assume that everyone else thinks the same way.
We project our gender bias on other people thereby perpetuating the bias. I’m going to quote my negotiation mentor, Lisa Gates, who’s co-founder of She Negotiates, who has said that “The place where gender bias is most deeply and secretly lodged is inside ourselves.”
And so when we fear that other people have negative opinions of self-advocating women, we get even more afraid. We get even more silent. Less brave.
So, the next one kind of feeds right into this, the third dangerous assumption is overestimating people’s power and/or underestimating our own power.
All these assumptions, they go hand in hand, right? When you assume that a high level of conflict exists, when you assume that everybody thinks the same way and when you let these assumptions hold you back from taking a stand, being courageous, taking action, we can easily overestimate that other people have more power.
Power that exists outside of us.
Power that we don’t have.
And when we think we don’t have power, we feel small, we feel like victims.
We feel miserable.
The thing about power, however, is that there is more than just one type of power. A lot of people mistake power as simply dominant power or power that you may exert over other people when you are in a sort of commanding control type of situation, and you exert control and authority over a group of people.
And almost always, we associate masculine qualities. If you look up the word commander or leader it’ll say oh, he is the kind of man who will lead this team to this success that we want! And that’s unfortunate, but that’s not the only kind of power that exists.
I think the real power is in ourselves because we have the power to choose our thinking. We have the power to influence our own emotions and that means we have the power to take inspired action and when we take inspired action we generate positive results, not just for us, but for the world.
And that is the kind of power that I want to ignite in the people that I coach. That is the kind of power that I am interested in helping to develop and grow.
I also make positive assumptions, so I’m not going to make an a-s-s out of m-e. I will state my assumptions about the kind of people who are interested in this specific type of power that I’m talking about which is your autonomy.
I think the people who are interested in my content, I think people who are interested in working with me are the kind of people who want to make a positive impact in the world.
And for this type of people, it’s not just about money. It’s not just about more dominant type of power. Although you love money and you love exerting influence, you love money and you love influence because it can be used to fuel the positive change that you want to create.
Yeah, I’m talking about you!
I think you want to negotiate a bigger life that’s defined by purpose, meaning, and joy.
And if that is true, then I make another assumption: that you want to brave the discomfort of advocating for your value so you can take ownership of your dreams. So you can step into the leadership that you dream of and speak up for what you believe in and that’s because that’s how change starts.
And so if that is true, then I also assume that you want to make a conscious and empowered choice in your thoughts and actions. That’s where the magic is because as I said earlier, thoughts generate feelings that generate action that generate results.
And so if that is you, I want to invite you to a powerful coaching experience with me.
I am making some time available in my schedule to speak with my audience one-on-one, for free, for 90 minutes.
Why? Because I am grateful to have this privilege to reach you. Because I am looking to connect with my audience in a deeper way. And I think the best way to dispel any negative assumptions that are holding us back is to really listen and to be engaged in one long conversation at a time.
And in 90 minutes, we can address whatever challenge you’re facing right now that’s holding you back from showing up, communicating with authenticity, and negotiating as a leader.
So, if you are interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know who you are, what you do, what you’d like to talk about. It’s email@example.com and once I read your email and I feel that there is a fit for your needs and that I can support you, I will reply with a calendar link for you to book a 90-minute, powerful coaching experience with me.
All I ask is that you show up, on time, to the call once it’s scheduled, and be open to a life-changing experience.
This might sound too good to be true, but it’s not a gimmick. I don’t have any gotchas. I’m not gonna sell you on a program. And no, you don’t have to have a salary negotiation for us to talk about.
This is real. I am already doing this and I’d like to offer this to my valued podcast listeners because I am growing small but with a lot of intention and a deep desire to contribute real value.
So, this week I coached a feminist leader, one of the women who came to my workshop in Japan. I coached her, and she is working to empower young high school girls so that they can make informed decisions about how they want to live their lives and she wants them to be happier and more fulfilled as a result. I love that.
This morning, I coached a UX designer and she’s helping to realize the visions of mission-driven organizations by improving their websites so that these mission-driven organizations can serve people and in this process the designer, the UX designer, she is creating joy.
So, I’m seeking to connect with people like that.
People who value excellence. People who value service. People who desire to make a positive impact. People who tend to lean on the introverted side and tend to think really deep. Those are my people.
And so if that is you, if you are listening to this and you’re like, yeah, that is me! If you are interested in talking with me, I’m giving you an open invitation to have a really long, deep, powerful conversation with me.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My intention is to demonstrate that I can help by helping you. So, I look forward to hearing from you and talk to you soon!