Jumping to conclusions is where people reach a premature conclusion on the basis of too little information. For example, believing the neighbor’s house is on fire solely on the evidence of seeing smoke coming out of their kitchen window. Taking a little time to understand the situation may just reveal your neighbor’s zeal to learn to bake has again resulted in another charred outcome.
Why people jump to conclusions
The main reason: our cognitive system relies on mental shortcuts (called heuristics), which increase the speed of our judgment and decision-making processes, while reducing the accuracy. This can be thought of as following our gut feeling or reacting to our environment on autopilot.
In general, jumping to conclusions is a natural phenomenon, and can actually lead to reasonable results in many situations where a decision must be made quickly. We tend to repeatedly jump to conclusions throughout our day, more so when it comes to making observations or decisions that aren’t very important. This quick process reduces our cognitive load of making a decision.
We can get into trouble when we rely on heuristics, our mental shortcuts, instead of taking the time to really process what we are hearing and seeing around us. This can cause us to rush ahead and make intuitive judgments, without relying on sufficient information and thorough reasoning processes.
How to avoid jumping to conclusions ourselves
We may not be facing a smoke belching kitchen window, but we can still find ourselves making quick judgments based on little to no information. Have you ever interacted with someone who was distracted, impatient, and/or a bit grumbly? It’s not hard for our minds to leap to the conclusion that the person’s character is that of an unhappy, perhaps angry, individual. But, is this conclusion based on facts or a result of us taking the time to understand the situation?
- Slow down and force yourself to think through a given situation instead of immediately accepting your initial intuition as necessarily true. This is the most important step to take. Do I really know where this behavior stems from?
- Actively ask yourself whether you might be rushing to form a conclusion too early and come up with a number of plausible competing hypotheses. Could this person have had something happen earlier in their day that could have caused their behavior?
- Actively ask yourself what information could help you reach a valid conclusion, and how you can get that information. Engage in dialogue and Active Listening with the person to understand what they are saying and learn where they are coming from.
- Think about other times where you, or someone that you know, jumped to conclusions in a similar situation.
More than anything, slowing down and taking the time to listen, observe, and engage will prevent us from jumping to conclusions and will enable us to strengthen our relationships, both professional and personal. Below are some of the most important points to Active Listening.
Active listening is about understanding the other person first, then being understood as the listener.