Not Always What You Think


picture of VISTA thinking and writingAs a VISTA, you enter a new organization where you are expected to quickly understand people and the way things work so you can start serving right away. In the rush to contribute and build capacity, it can be tempting to fall back on past experiences and assumptions. But sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.


We all make assumptions, they are a natural way to organize reality. However, sometimes a situation or person is not what we think they are. As you click through these pictures, think about what assumptions the young man in the middle makes about the music.



Slowing down to become aware of our automatic responses to people and situations can help us adapt more quickly to new situations. Reflecting on our assumptions makes us more effective at working with people, listening to others, thinking critically and creatively, and solving problems.

This tutorial’s activities will help you think about the assumptions you make and consider assumptions that others make about you. This tutorial is for you only—no one will read or see what you enter here. After taking this tutorial, you will be able to:

  • Define what an assumption is
  • Reflect on your assumptions and why you make them
  • Manage your assumptions more effectively as well as those that other people might make about you


Go Ahead: Make Some Assumptions

Look at each photo. What do you believe to be true about the person, place, or situation in the picture? Click on the characteristics that you believe apply to the photo. Don't think too hard about your choices—go with your gut reaction. Click Next photo when you are finished.



How did it feel to make assumptions about these photos?

Whatever you felt is okay, but many people experience a combination of emotions. Sometimes making assumptions makes people feel smart or “in-the-know” because they can reach conclusions based on a quick glance or relatively small amount of information. Making assumptions might also make people feel uncomfortable—they don’t want to make a mistake or hurt someone’s feelings.

Making assumptions is a natural part of organizing reality. At the same time, assumptions are risky because they can hinder our ability to understand, build relationships, and solve problems.

If you would like to talk about this topic with other VISTAs, go to the VISTA Forums and participate in or start a discussion.


Thinking About Assumptions

Think about the assumptions you made about the person, place, and situation in the previous activity. What led you to make those assumptions? Select all that apply.

Note: Answer honestly. Your answers are not monitored or saved. This activity is for you only.


About you

People will also make assumptions about you as a VISTA member. Predicting how people in the organization and community might perceive you will help you deal with those assumptions.

Read the list of characteristics below. What assumptions might people make about you based on these aspects of your identity? Enter your thoughts in the box next to each characteristic.

For example, if you are a recent college graduate, how might your age impact the way people see you? Or, if you always wear a suit to work, what might people assume about you?


Managing Assumptions

picture of woman digging through trash can You've taken an important step toward understanding how you perceive others and how others might perceive you. We all have preconceived notions and prejudices that we’re frequently not even aware of. These assumptions then affect how others treat us and how we treat them. Because we all make these assumptions, it is important to gather information, suspend judgment, and listen respectfully.

When assumptions turn into firmly held but inaccurate beliefs or stereotypes they become a problem.


picture of woman asking for helpWe make assumptions about others without knowing it. Most of our assumptions are based on our experiences. By broadening our experiences, we begin to break down initial assumptions and open our minds to new interpretations.

Reflecting on the assumptions you make and those others might make about you are important steps in the process of challenging stereotypes. This, in turn, will help you work more effectively in your organization and community.

During your service year, you will encounter many new people and situations. Remember to reflect and celebrate as your assumptions change with your broadening experiences!