Jumping to Conclusions


At about 11 a.m. on the second day of the workshop, as I was introducing a new topic, Adam stood up, went to the back of the room, leaned against the wall, and closed his eyes. Being a veteran jumper to conclusions, I let my inner voice immediately take over: Adam is unhappy with the workshop. He regrets attending. He's angry with me for talking him into it. He can't even stay awake. But he's too kind to walk out on me, so he's propping himself up against the wall in hopes of staying awake.

Even as I was presenting to the group, this inner voice was presenting to me. But I didn't stop after reaching my conclusion about Adam's behavior. I went to the next step and contemplated what I'd do about the situation. Should I say something to him? Should I apologize for cajoling him into attending? Should I wait until he says something so I don't embarrass him?

At the lunch break, Adam bolted from the room, further confirming my interpretation, but also sparing me from having to face him.

When I returned after lunch, Adam was already in the room, energetically talking with several classmates. Someone commented that he hadn't joined them for lunch, and asked him if he was all right. I couldn't help but hear the conversation. (OK, I listened in.) "I'm fine," he told them, "I just needed to take a nap. I slept badly last night, so this morning was a struggle. But I really didn't want to miss a word of it."

He didn't want to miss a word of it? Then why was I so certain that he was miserable? Why was I positive he hated the class? Why was I convinced he was angry with me? After all, I know what I saw, and facts are facts—except that facts aren't facts when they are based on false interpretations of available information.

In this situation, I was fortunate. Through a fluke of timing and proximity that enabled me to overhear a conversation, I quickly learned how wrong I was. I have to wonder how often I, and any of us, make misguided interpretations and never have the opportunity to learn the error of our ways. I suspect this happens often.

Perhaps we have a responsibility to try harder to challenge our interpretations. Not all the time, obviously, but just occasionally, such as when something we observe seems significantly at odds with what we expected, or when a mistaken interpretation could have serious consequences, or when we find ourselves obsessing over the matter.

In these situations, we might try to consider alternative interpretations that could account for the situation. We might ask questions of others to help us confirm or reject our interpretation. Or we could replay the situation in our minds to gauge if we might be mistaken about the circumstances that led to our interpretation.

I'm getting better at noticing some of my conclusions and seeking additional information to confirm or deny my interpretation. It's a worthwhile exercise.

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