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The Role of Assumptions, Perceptions & Expectations

Joseph Ravick, a mediator, trainer, and facilitator, talks about “not letting the APE’s get you”. He is referring to the powerful role that our assumptions, perceptions and expectations have in defining how we perceive a conflict and, if left unexamined, the detrimental impact they will continue to have on the conflict. A key part of the process of addressing a conflict with another person is to examine our own and the other person’s assumptions, perceptions and expectations and how they are impacting the working relationship.


Assumption is defined in the dictionary as “a thing that is assumed to be true.”  It is normal to make assumptions, however, when we make assumptions about other’s intentions, reasons for action, or their understanding of a situation we may end up creating a false understanding. Identifying and checking out assumptions is crucial to developing a common understanding of the problem.

Examples of direct questions that will allow you to check assumptions include:

•                What did you want to achieve when you did that?
•                What information were you given about what my role would be?
•                What is your understanding of our task?


Perception is defined in the dictionary as “a way of regarding, understanding or interpreting something”. Perception is individual to each person and while some people may share a mostly common perception of an event, there will always be some subtle differences. Often, people will have different perceptions of what occurred based on their assumptions, expectations, experience and history. Being open to understanding how others have perceived the conflict and to adjusting our own perception when new information is received is key to managing conflict with others.


Expectation is defined in the dictionary as “belief that something will happen or be the case”. Again, it is normal to have expectations. These expectations are based on our life experience in general and experience specific to the situation and/or relationship at hand. When our expectations are not met there can be a sense of frustration and/or a feeling of being disrespected or disregarded.

When our expectations are not met we need to examine a number of questions:

•                Was the other person aware of the expectation?
•                Did the other person share the expectation?
•                Was it in the power of the other person to meet the expectation?
•                Was it in the other person’s best interest to meet the expectation?