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Assume Nothing for Fewer Difficult Conversations

difficult conversationsThe locker room at my gym is becoming a dump.  If it wasn’t enjoying the privilege of paying more, a.k.a. this is one of the most shi shi (overpriced) gyms in town, I wouldn’t care. But it is, so I do.  I joined this gym because it’s really, really nice and was really, really clean.  I tell myself that perhaps because the gym is so nice, maybe I’ll use it. This self brainwashing hasn’t worked yet.  But I’m still hopeful.

Last week I made a rare visit to the gym. Perhaps I just wanted to be sure it was still in the same location.  The locker room, which is more like a spa than a gym, was trashed.  There were used towels and paper cups strewn everywhere, and people had left their dirty gym clothes draped on the benches.  Being the Queen of Candor, I HAD to write a comment card.

I told the gym’s manager that I was disappointed that members don’t take better care of the locker room and that it is not the cleaning staff’s job to clean up after us.  I also suggested that the membership team set expectations with new members and guests about what it means to be a member.  “Clean up after yourself in the locker room.  We are all responsible for keeping the gym as nice as it is.”

The manager promptly sent me an email.  He told me he too is disappointed that members didn’t take better care of the gym, but that he can’t tell members and guests that they are expected to clean up after themselves. He said it was too condescending. “It’s a given. People should know that they are expected to clean up their messes.  I can’t tell them that,” he said.

Yes, people should know to clean up after themselves.  But clearly they don’t.

His response surprised me.  Clearly if people knew they needed to put away their towels and garbage, they would do it.  Why not tell them?

Other people are not us. They don’t do things the way we do. I highly doubt that people will be offended if we tell them what we want.  We actually make their lives easier by telling them how to win with us.

All the sales staff has to say is, “We’re proud of how nice this gym is. Thank you for helping us keep the facility as nice as it is by putting away your dirty towels, being sure you throw out all of your trash and taking your gym clothes with you when you leave.  If everyone does these things, the gym will remain as nice as it is today.”

Condescending?  I don’t think so.

Assume nothing.  Set expectations when things begin.  Don’t wait for breakdowns, miscommunications or violated expectations. Just tell people what you expect.   Making requests is a form of conflict prevention.  Asking for what you want when things begin is much easier than telling someone they’re doing something wrong.   The better you set expectations, the fewer difficult conversations you’ll have to have.   Ask more. Assume less.®


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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