We create most of the drama we experience every day in our work lives. There, I said it. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but most of the drama you experience starts with you. That also means that you have the power to stop it.
The single most powerful approach I teach and practice to kill drama before it starts is called API, “Assuming Positive Intent.” It’s a very simple approach that can transform how your interact with others. Here’s how it works.
Simply put, if you have an experience with someone that could be interpreted in several possible ways, chose to assume that the most positive explanation is the most likely one. It’s that simple. But, it’s not always easy. Our natural tendency as humans is to fill in the parts of the story we don’t know with negative assumptions that are colored by our fears and insecurities. If we are intentional about our choices, we can stop this negativity in it’s tracks and replace it with positivity instead.
The reason this is so important is that our actions and, more importantly, our reactions to others are highly dependent on how we interpret those interactions. If I assume that your email was snotty, then I am more prone to react defensively–to meet snotty with snotty. And that’s how drama begins. Because, while you may not have meant the initial interaction as snotty, now that I have responded to you in that way, you might now choose to respond similarly. A relationship crumbles. All because of a careless assumption.
When a colleague says to you after a meeting, “I can’t believe you said that in the meeting.” You might normally choose to assume that this comment was judgmental or critical. Instead, you could chose to assume that they were surprised by your courage and candor. Your reaction to that comment might be dramatically different dependent upon your assumption.
Or, when you get an email from your boss requesting an unscheduled meeting, many people will immediately assume that they are in trouble or that it’s bad news. When we do this, we then spend much of the day worrying about what’s going to happen in the meeting (what did I do wrong?). Instead, chose to assume that your boss just wants to update you on something (or get an update) or even wants to give you some praise. By making that simple change in your choice about assumption, you’ve freed yourself from the stress and energy you would have wasted worrying about the meeting. After all, the meeting is what it is, regardless of what you think it is. So, why not choose the positive assumption so you can preserve your energy and focus.
Learning first to practice this approach and then teaching it to others is a powerful way to change your life, your team and even your culture. When everyone assumes positive intent, pretty soon, most people actually act with positive intent. People have a funny way of living up to (or down to) your expectations. Use your assumptions wisely. Drama will fade away and results will take it’s place.