Influence and the Power of Positive Assumption

I recently purchased a new sport coat. As the store owner packed the coat into a protective bag, she slid a stack of her business cards into the pocket of the coat.

“You’ll want these cards when people ask you where you got this amazing coat,” she said casually.

That statement reminded me of the line my dad once used with my mom:

“When you break up with your boyfriend, give me a call.”

One of the most impressive human relations skills is being able to appropriately assume a positive outcome. After all, if my dad hadn’t seen himself as more than what met the immediate eye of my mom, I might not be here to write this commentary.

Why is being appropriately assumptive so attractive, when does it work best, and how do you do it?

The Why. Professor Elizabeth Blankespoor of the Stanford School of Business recently conducted research demonstrating that company stock prices are valued higher when the CEO appears confident and competent. This is further validated by the research of Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter in her book Confidence, where she points out that winners have—and losers lack—a distinct, learnable, positive attitude toward the future. When we assume the best outcomes are a given, people tend to perceive that we’re part of the winning team.

The When. Being assumptive is most appropriate when we have a genuine belief that our assumptions will be beneficial. Sales author and speaker Tom Hopkins suggests that being assumptive means that your “buyer” has a want or need that connects to what you offer and the buyer is able to follow through on your assumption. In sales-speak, the person is “qualified.”

The How. To know whether your assumptions will be beneficial, you have to learn something about the needs and desires of the other person. While “being assumptive” makes it sound like you are assuming rather than discovering, in fact, you can’t do it without first understanding someone’s unique position. It’s then that you will have earned the right to assume that they would benefit. In other words, this is first an act of building trust, and that’s what makes being assumptive appropriate. By definition, the trust implies that the other person has confidence in you and you have confidence in yourself.

The next time you’re confident that you can benefit someone else, confidently act like it! Observe the magnetic attraction of being appropriately assumptive.

In what personal or professionals situations have you experienced the power of positive assumption? How might you apply it to build trust and broaden your influence?



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  • Laura
    August 19, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Thanks for the good thoughts Matt! There’s a fine line between being arrogantly self-promoting and being attuned to ways your gifts can benefit others. Deirdre Van Nest does this really well!

    • Matt Norman
      August 22, 2015 at 2:38 am

      Thank you, Laura! Great call-out that a fine line separates arrogance and others-focus. I’ve heard Deirdre does it very well!

  • Mike Norman
    August 20, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Matt, I must have understood your mom’s “unique position” when I was “appropriately assumptive” prior to our first date. We are celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary in 3 weeks. I really like your post. We all need to be conveying more positive messages today that will give those around us hope for a better future. Thanks for giving us good food for thought and ways of implementing those ideas.

    • Matt Norman
      August 22, 2015 at 2:40 am

      Dad, you’ve always done this well. I admire your ability to demonstrate an others-oriented confidence. Thanks for modelling a beautiful marriage!