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This is Paul Hirsch

Paul Hirsch

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The $1,200 mistake: what I learned about assumptions

A few days ago, I nearly made a $1,200 mistake. I made an assumption and an overinvestment in my own pride which almost ruined a solid client relationship and an ongoing maintenance contract. I narrowly avoided slitting my own throat, and I publicly offer this example to others as a lesson in how assumptions can color your judgment and pride can influence your actions.

A few days ago, a client sent me a forwarded email containing a handful of photos he wanted added to his site. This would be an unremarkable request, except that the email forward contained an exchange he was having with another Web designer, asking for quotes to have his Web site redesigned and maintained in the future. I was shocked – either my client accidentally showed me an email I wasn’t supposed to see, or this was his way of telling me we were no longer going to do business together. Either way, my pride as a professional was deeply wounded.

When I read his email, my first reaction was to do something very stupid. I nearly wrote the client back with a number of untruths, to tell him we’d outgrown him, that his patronage wasn’t desirable and it was best for him to look elsewhere for a designer to take over his Web operations. My ego was damaged, and I almost allowed it to dictate my actions. Instead, I reined myself in, and sent back a message stating I’d read the contents of his forwarded email, and that if he was indeed planning to move forward with another designer, he would want some statistical and strategic information regarding site visitor growth so the new designer could continue our upward trends. It was as much a way of reminding the client we were experiencing success as it was me acknowledging I’d read his message and was willing to be cooperative to the end.

Assumptions are very powerful things – not inherently good or bad, just powerful. They allow us to fill in the unknowns in our realities with what we perceive to be facts. We act on assumptions as if they are real; we must do this! If we waited until we had every single fact about every single situation, we’d never make a decision and never get anything done. I felt I had all the information I needed to understand the situation I was presented, and I responded to the client based on my assumptions.

I’m very fortunate I chose to bury my pride before reacting to my assumptions. The client responded the next morning to let me know our relationship was not in jeopardy, the exchange I witnessed was related to a completely different project, and the other designer was brought in by committee, outside of his control. He also mentioned the scale and budget of this other project would likely have been undesirable too.

My assumptions were very wrong – that much is human error and quite forgivable. My reaction was almost disasterous. Had I reacted based on my pride, I would surely have lost a client and friend. I’m fortunate I get to share with you an exercise in humility, not a story of loss.

This isn’t as much a lesson in having the wherewithall to handle ego-based situations professionally as it is a lesson in proper mindsets and perspective. I ended up making the right decisions in my response, but I spent a day feeling just awful about myself (didn’t sleep too well that night either) and it turns out there was no reason to do so. Ignoring my pride prevented a disaster. Had I sought more information before forming my assumptions, I could have also prevented a lot of anxiety and inner-turmoil. I only fell asleep because I eventually convinced myself I didn’t care.

Of course I care. If I didn’t care, what would be the point?