Presumption can be expensive



I thought that you meant..... is a familiar comment to hear in business and is the starting point for a potential row, usually an expensive one. You were clear at the meeting, you presumed that everyone was on the same page but something has been lost in translation.

Let's look at some of the common causes of these issues so that you can be on your guard when communicating with any of your audiences.

  • At a meeting some of those attending use industry terms or acronyms that they presume everyone understands. There maybe technical drawings where details are being discussed with the presumption that everyone can read them. Rather than embarrass themselves by asking, attendees just nod and everyone carries on in the belief that what is being said is clearly understood. It may only emerge at a much later date that important facts were lost in translation and then the finger pointing starts.

Can I suggest that you discourage attendees from using industry terms or acronyms and if they need to do so that they explain them in more detail. Say you understand that everyone may not be familiar with some of the terms/drawings and invite questions at regular intervals. To help break the ice you might ask one of your team to ask a question early on to set the tone of the meeting.


  • Have you ever attended a meeting where notes were not taken, where actions were identified but no one was assigned them? It is only at subsequent meetings when nothing has happened that questions are asked and attendees are on the defensive.

I cannot recall the number of meetings I have attended where people listened but took no notes whatsoever. How they expected to recall details at a later stage is beyond me and I only intervened if the topic had a direct impact on me. Make sure everyone has pen and paper or has a device to record notes before starting the meeting.

Circulate Minutes as soon as possible with key action points, who they were assigned to and a date for completion.


  • You have sent a quote or proposal for a project which gets the green light only to discover that near completion the customer/client believes that certain items are covered in the price when in fact they are not. This is quite common and can lead to a breakdown in relationships and money lost by all concerned.

My suggestion is to take notes at the meeting and before any quotation or proposal is sent you send on your understanding of what was said. At the end say 'if I have overlooked or misunderstood anything please let me know immediately'. Ask the other party for confirmation that your understanding is correct. You now have a solid basis for creating your proposal.


When quoting make sure you clearly identify what is NOT being included as well as what is included. Put in key timelines, completion dates and any caveats where the other side has failed to meet their agreed date or where certain terms have not been met.


Leave no room for ambiguity and do not presume that by stating the obvious that you are over simplifying your communications.