The power of assuming positive intent
October 10, 2016 by Nicola Blockley
Until recently, I would have never considered myself one to assume that the actions of others were driven by negative intent. Yet if anyone – especially someone at work, were to say to me “we need to talk,” I would find myself filled with worry, racking my brain to think of what I might have done wrong.
Why is it that we jump to the conclusion that these people in our lives want to do badly by us? When we don’t like with the tone someone has used in an email or the way in which they have completed a task, it’s not an uncommon reaction to assume that they were trying to cause a problem, or they were being lazy and are not fit for their role. We often don’t take the time that we should before we react to the situation to talk to the other person or to try and understand why they may have done things the way that they did.
Since I started with SRA nearly six months ago, one of the most crucial lessons I have learned has been to kick this habit of assuming the worst and instead approach things by assuming positive intent. The power of assuming positive intent is well documented and strongly supported, most notably so by Indra Nooyi (CEO of Pepsi Co) who said (fantastically!):
“When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.”
Assuming positive intent will not only improve your relationships by reducing conflict and improving your understanding of others, it will also have a significant impact on your daily happiness. When you expect that others are acting with good intentions, there is less time to spend feeling let down, worried or under attack.
To summarise, here are the four main things I have found to be most important to help me assume positive intent each day:
Give the benefit of the doubt – no matter how frustrating or upsetting something seems to be, give the person a chance to explain their intentions before reacting.
Learn to accept feedback – when our colleagues and managers take the time to provide us with feedback on our work, it can be easy to take their words personally. However, these are busy people, they are unlikely to take time out of their day to put you down. Rather, they are likely to be providing their feedback because they care about both you and the organisation and want to help both perform at their best.
Remember that most people are inherently good – the chances that people you speak with each day are actually out to get you aren’t particularly high, so don’t let yourself get caught up in negative expectations.
We are all different, but we are all human – people are different in so many ways; our senses of humour, our facial expressions and our tones (both verbal and email) are just a few. What you might interpret as sarcasm may be received as snarky by another. But we are also all human, we all make mistakes and we all have bad days. We need to remember these things to ensure we allow others a chance to explain their true intent, rather than reacting based on what we perceive.