By Eddie Pipkin
A couple of months ago, I received a humbling lesson in not jumping to conclusions. I was reading the sports page and encountered the article announcing that the Cleveland Indians, after years of wrestling with whether to change their name to something less offensive to Native Americans, had settled on the appellation, Cleveland Guardians, and I rolled my eyes . . . hard. I was supportive of the idea of a name change – it seems like a thoughtful move for a new era – but the choice for this new name irritated me as anodyne, colorless, focus-group-tested, bland, and meaningless, I harrumphed. That is, until, reading a little further, I realized that Guardians had a specific, contextual, historic meaning for folks in Cleveland. Oops. My apologies, Cleveland. I had made a common mistake – one that plagues ministry – I had petulantly and peevishly propounded, when a little patience and curiosity would have better served.
A couple of months ago, I received a humbling lesson in not jumping to conclusions. I was reading the sports page and encountered the article announcing that the Cleveland Indians, after years of wrestling with whether to change their name to something less offensive to Native Americans, had settled on the appellation, Cleveland Guardians, and I rolled my eyes . . . hard. I was supportive of the idea of a name change – it seems like a thoughtful move for a new era – but the choice for this new name irritated me as anodyne, colorless, focus-group-tested, bland, and meaningless, I harrumphed. That is, until, reading a little further, when I realized that Guardians had a specific, contextual, historic meaning for folks in Cleveland. Oops. My apologies, Cleveland. I had made a common mistake – one that plagues ministry – I had petulantly and peevishly propounded, when a little patience and curiosity would have better served.
Our propensity to jump to conclusions leads to all manner of mischief in our individual daily lives, but its pernicious effects in ministry waste time, create hard feelings, send us on useless trajectories, and reveal uncomfortable truths about our misguided priorities:
- Wasting Time: When we jump to a conclusion (or make a snap judgment without all the facts), we create a chain of events that must be unraveled later. Once we realize we have made a mistake, we have the hard work of repairing the damage. It’s wasted effort.
- Hard Feelings: Inevitably, our falsely projected conclusion impacts our interaction with someone else and does relationship damage in the process. Such damage, if not immediately repaired, can spread. Even if immediately repaired, trust is lost, and wariness sets in.
- Useless Trajectories: When we jump without sufficiently calibrated navigation, we land in the wrong spot. Not only do we have to get back on course, but often we end up having to deal with issues that would not otherwise have been on the agenda.
- Uncomfortable Truths: Our tendency to jump to conclusions reveals a lot about our hidden priorities, motives, fixations, ignorance, and, sometimes, prejudices. We would do well to analyze each instance of conclusion-jumping to unpack what is going on with our internal mental processes. Why are we so quick to make the wrong assumption? What does it say about us as individuals and as leaders?
(A note: It is not necessary to jump to a harmful conclusion to evoke at least two of the items on that list. A purely innocuous conclusion, jumped to in error, can waste time and send us off into rabbit holes.)
It’s instructional to break down the occasions on which we have been unable to curb our jumpthusiasm. [Jumpthusiasm: Our natural eagerness to leap before we look, damaging ourselves and others in the process.] It is a wise exercise to take several moments to sketch out and retrospectively analyze the process for how any ill-advised jump unfolded.
In my real-world example of the Cleveland Indians / Guardians name change, my own snobberies about committee-designed lame names, as well as my unreasonable disdain for the work of focus groups, led me to form a judgment before fully reading the story behind the story. It turns out the Guardians are a series of “large, stone edifices – referred to as traffic guardians – that flank both ends of Hope Memorial Bridge.” In other words, they are a longstanding part of the local civic architecture that are meaningful to locals – a nod to the kind of specific local context I write about with enthusiasm nearly every week in this space. My prejudices led me to disavow something I should have been celebrating.
It’s not hard to find daily examples in the news of conclusion jumping which is either the product of miscommunication or, more disconcertingly, inherent judgementalism. An egregious example was reported earlier this week when a mother with a wheelchair-bound son at Disney World found an ersatz parking ticket on her windshield because she had taken up two parking spaces. She had been instructed to park in that fashion because the designated handicapped parking spaces were full, and her van had an extendable wheelchair ramp, so it legitimately needed two spaces, but some self-absorbed martinet felt the need to leave a despicable, nasty note. This example is so egregious, it’s easy to judge – it feels righteous to do so, but there are shades of each of us in its bold confidence to jump right out there and make an assumption (and then be the crusader for saving all humanity).
The Bible offers straightforward wisdom on such misplaced confidence:
“Don’t jump to conclusions—there may be
a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw.”
We are all familiar, if we have spent any time in church at all, with Jesus’ admonition against judgmentalism:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
It’s interesting to note that in the story of the self-appointed parking manners enforcer, they weren’t just spontaneously irritated, they were actively looking for someone to punish (as evidenced by their prepared and printed diatribe). That attitude puts us deep in the red zone for conclusion jumping.
There is a wonderful passage in Joshua 22 in which different tribes get at cross-purposes and war seems imminent because a conclusion has been jumped to about the location of a newly fashioned altar. Cooler (meaning wiser) heads prevail, questions are asked, conversations ensue, and what was thought to be confrontational and ugly turns out to be a gesture of humility, faithfulness, and brotherhood. In the end, they name the altar, “Witness.” We would all do well to share a little more ‘witness’ with one another and a little less filling-in-the-blanks with our own assumptions. If something strikes us as strange or offensive, let’s ask some questions and get some perspective before spouting off. I’m not saying we should never spout off, express an opinion, hold someone accountable, enforce penalties, or push back on an idea. I’m saying we should be deliberative and careful when doing so – a little research, a little conversation, and a lot of humility can go a long way. Especially for leaders.
GROUP EXERCISE: Have your staff or leadership team share times when they have been humbled by jumping to a conclusion that turned out to be erroneous. What were the ramifications of their mistake? Did they learn from it and make adjustments? What processes do they have in place for avoiding such mistakes in the future? Share the scripture verses and discuss what this biblical wisdom means in this context.
The first step is to recognize how frequently we are jumping to conclusions and to understand our internal triggers and identify the moment when we are preparing to make the leap. We need to break that process down and interrupt it.
The process for counter-action proceeds like this:
- Slow Down: Take a deep breath and pause before reacting. Think it through. Consider whether the thought that’s clamoring to be vocalized (or immediately typed) can be put on the backburner for a bit.
- Empathize: Attempt to figure out the context and motives of the person making the statement that has you riled up. Ask questions. Get more information.
- Prioritize: Think about what is truly important in this exchange. By jumping in, am I going to sabotage my ultimate goal? How will jumping in with passion in this case impact this relationship?
- Analyze: Having stepped back, give some thought to my own motivations, innate predispositions, and hyper-sensitivity to specific topics and personalities. What am I really reacting to here?
As leaders, we tend to jump to conclusions in dealing with . . .
- Individuals we have pre-judged: Some people just rub us the wrong way. Anything they say starts in a challenged place for us.
- Philosophies that are different from ours: A world view that is clearly different from our own is likely to be challenged, regardless of the quality of any individual idea.
- Strategies that are different from ours: If someone’s general approach or management technique is different than how we would do it, we are resistant to their idea.
- Emotional resonances that are different than ours: If we are not feelings-based in our decision-making process, we can be dismissive of those who display emotion, and if we are feelings-based, we can be suspicious of those who are too analytical.
- Ideas that are not articulated well: We may rate an idea based on the ‘quality’ with which it is communicated. Presentation does not equal merit.
Social media and lightspeed communication have led to a rise in conclusion jumping – or at least to its harmful dissemination. Our smartphone interfaces reward the “hot take” – taking an immediate and caustic shot, in as snarky a manner as possible, at any issue or incident in the news. We see how popular such ranting is, and we’re tempted to feel obligated to join the fray.
But the premise of this blog is simple. When we are less judgmental and less trigger-happy on jumping to conclusions, outcomes are better. It is difficult to imagine scenarios in which jumping to conclusions leads to superior outcomes. (Someone might spuriously argue that TV show detectives do this all the time, but their leaps of logic are actually the opposite. It is their specialized training, wide experience, and unique insight that gives them the edge. You’ll have that occasionally, too, but be humble enough to know that it will be rare.) We are folks engaged in ministry as professionals and volunteers. Our call is to promote calm and unity. Clamping down on conclusion jumping is a great start.
How do you rate yourself and the people on your leadership teams in terms of conclusion jumping? Are you kamikazes of the quick take? Has such enthusiasm for rapid-fire judgments caused chaos in your organization? How about in critical relationships? I’m sure you have some great examples of your own. Or that I have left out some regular ways in which we falsely leap to improper conclusions. Share your own unique insights in the comments section.