Skip to main content

Have you ever asked someone a question, only to get an answer that you later realized was wrong? Did it leave you questioning the value of their input? Did it cause you to wonder about their motivation in giving faulty information?

It’s happened to me countless times. I work with my husband, and together we’ve owned a business for 20 years. In that time, we’ve asked one another a whole lot of work-related questions. The accuracy is important because often, big decisions are based on it. But what I’ve noticed over the years is that my husband’s answers have frequently been… well, wrong…or so it seemed to me.

If you’re part of a family business, you likely know that trust is essential. If you can’t trust one another, the whole arrangement won’t work for very long. After all, family businesses depend on relationships that are built on mutual trust. And what better way to destroy the relationship and each other’s trust than to believe you’ve been misled?

I might be a slow learner because it took me a long, long time to realize that my husband/business partner, wasn’t giving me bad information, he was giving me his assessments. And I want to share with you what I finally learned about assessments that helped me learn to trust his information again.

Some Background

Before I share the details, let me tell you about a gentleman by the name of Fernando Flores. In the 1970’s, he declared that language is generative and as such, words are capable of production. He called his idea, The Theory of Speech Acts and it includes the following six powerful communicative opportunities that, when used properly, can affect real change.

  • Assertions
  • Assessments
  • Declarations
  • Requests
  • Offers
  • Promises

We use all six of these in our daily conversations without much thought. But, giving them some attention, understanding their productivity, and being able to discern one from another can improve the quality of communication. And, in my experience as a leadership coach, when employed properly in our communications, they can improve our working relationships and build trust among colleagues and family.

The first thing to know about assessments is that they are not a bad thing. As human beings, we instinctively make assessments — it is part of our hard-wiring and can be credited for keeping our species alive over the millennia. Our instinctive ability to assess has helped us to know what to choose and what to avoid.

To best explain how to identify an assessment and understand what it is, I need to clarify what it is not. And the best way to do that is to introduce you to its partner, the assertion.

Assessments vs. Assertions

On the surface, assessments and assertions might seem quite similar but their difference is significant. Here’s how they work.

Assertions are either true or false statements. They are verifiable, based on universal truth, and are accepted by society as factual.

  • The checking account has a $1,500. balance.
  • A year is 365 days.
  • The earthquake registered a 7.6 on the Richter Scale.

Assessments, on the other hand, are opinions made for the sake of coordinating action, or to justify a feeling.

  • There is enough in the account — you won’t overdraft.
  • A year is a long time to wait.
  • The earthquake was big and scary.

Back to my story; because my husband was giving me assessments rather than assertions, and I was unaware of the difference, I often took every word he said as universal truth. Had I known more about Speech Acts and listened more carefully, I would have realized that he was sharing his opinion and that if I needed solid data, I should verify his information.

For the record, we communicate much better now, he hasn’t changed a thing, but I know how to listen differently.

Understanding Smooths The Bumps

So, what does this matter and how is it useful? In communication, a lot of opportunities for misunderstandings present themselves so the more we understand one another, the more smoothly things can go.

In the first example above, I’m sure if I were the check writer, I’d feel misled if the check bounced. Had I taken into account (no pun intended) that it was just an assessment, I would have confirmed the bank balance myself.

Ideally, if the respondent is truly concerned about providing useful information, they might pause and consider whether an assessment (opinion) or assertion (fact) would be most helpful. But, most people don’t do that, it takes a lot of focus and effort that we generally don’t engage.

For an assessment to be more than just a good guess, it would need to be a grounded assessment; an opinion based on information or facts. It’s still an opinion and in this example it might mean that it is based on factors such as receivables, scheduled payments, recent bank statement reconciliations, and maybe even float but still, it’s just an opinion. Again, it’s not likely anyone would put that much effort into a response.

If you want to play it safe, or the situation is dire, with no room for error, the best option would be to check the facts and provide an assertion, “ The current balance is $1520.” The information is clear, concise and is based on fact; it provides the listener with the data they can use to decide for themselves.

Conversely, as listeners, we can evaluate if the response we have been given is an assessment (opinion) or an assertion (factual) and then clarify further if necessary or perhaps more simply, discounting assessments we don’t trust.

Just to be clear, assessments are not a bad thing nor do they lead to losing trust. It is when the listener takes the assessment to be true and accurate that there are opportunities for misunderstanding. And, over time, those misunderstandings lead to an erosion of trust.

This simple distinction helps minimize the chances of misunderstanding. I suggest that both the speaker and the listener are responsible for putting effort into understanding the difference and listening carefully to distinguish between the two.

Evaluate The Assessments You Hear

Once you can readily identify an assessment, you must gauge its worthiness. Assessments can prove excellent and useful in decision-making, but trusting all of them isn’t advisable.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when evaluating assessments:

  • Are they competent enough to make the assessment?
  • Do they have enough experience or authority to make the assessment?
  • Is it grounded? What evidence are they relying on?
  • Are you in the proper mood to receive an assessment? Or are you in an emotional state that would cloud your thinking?

Particularly, in a family business — where family dynamics play a big role — knowing how to discern assessments from assertions can help you and your business partners make better judgments and decisions. And in business, making the best possible decisions is of utmost importance.

What’s Next

With some attention and practice, you’ll soon be able to distinguish the assertions from the assessments that you hear. In fact, it might be a fun game to evaluate them as you go through your normal daily routine and conversations! Listening at this powerful level can support your self-development by providing new perspectives. So put up your antennas, start listening, and ask yourself. Is this an assessment or assertion? Practice discerning and see what new places it leads you.

Schedule Your Consultation Now

If this article has brought your awareness to issues in your own family business, let’s talk. I am a Family Business Leadership Coach specializing in family systems and dynamics of multi-generational business-owning families. I work closely with their members to define core values, navigate complex dynamics, and foster alignment. You can reach me at

For further details, feel free to explore my LinkedIn profile.