There are some lessons you learn on the journey of life that can change everything. For me, these lessons usually end up stored in my mind as sound bites that are easy to recall for inspiration. Sound bites are great when I need a reminder or I want to share the lesson with others.
One of these lessons that substantially changed how effective I am at working with and leading people is stored in my mind as a four word sound bite:
“Always assume positive intention.”
The lesson these four words hold for me is to always assume that the person you are interacting with has positive intentions until proven otherwise. So, when a colleague’s comment comes off like a dig at you, assume that it was just a poor choice of words on their part and that they meant no harm. Or, when someone sends you a short email that could be read as angry or hostile, chose instead to assume that they were just in a hurry.
My colleague Cy Wakeman
talks about how we constantly writing stories in our head that bring drama into our lives. One of the examples she uses is of a situation we’ve all probably been in before.
It’s first thing in the morning and you meet one of your colleagues in the hall. Your colleague glances at you, doesn’t smile or say good morning, and keeps on walking.
At this point, we have a choice. Unfortunately, many of us will have the immediate thought, “What a jerk” in response to being snubbed in the hallway. And, since this person was such a jerk, we decide we should treat him accordingly. So, later in the day, when you see this same person in a meeting, you treat them like a jerk. And, they respond to your jerkiness by acting like a jerk–confirmation that our earlier judgment was true! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, let’s rewind this scenario and play it out a little differently this time assuming positive intentions. This time, when your colleague neglects to say good morning, you chose to assume that they must have something pretty important on their mind or that they are really busy with work. So, you don’t think anything of the experience. Or, maybe you take it a step further and when you see the person later that day, you ask how they are doing and if you can help them out in any way. Obviously, the person on the other end of this experience is going to react in a very different way than the first scenario.
The thing about these two examples is that the other person didn’t change. What changed was our mindset about how to react to something happening to us. The magic of the lesson “always assume positive intention” is that by expecting no change from others, you can experience other people in a completely different way. You write positive rather than negative stories in your mind. It’s a funny thing. People have a knack of living up or down to your expectations because so much of how we understand people is based on the perspective we bring to the interaction.
By changing how you choose to view people, you literally can change how the work responds to you.