Assume positive intent!

I had a few pretty contentious meetings this week. My first reaction was probably the same that most people have in such situations – somewhere between: “Really!?” and “What the…!”.

It’s easy to get protective or even combative if you have a lot going on. When in stress, we tend to develop tunnel vision and assume we’re the only ones who have the right solution. We don’t understand why everyone else is so difficult to deal with. It’s a fight-or-flight reaction that our brain falls back to in an attempt to ‘simplify’ our world view in situations of stress and perceived danger. It allows us to react fast and decisively – however, not always smartly.

Unfortunately, the reality is never that simple.

Being in a few such situations this week, I took a deep breath and remembered a training on unconscious bias that I attended a while ago. One of the principles they mentioned in that training is to assume positive intent.

Instead of thinking, “WTF, I’ll set you straight on this…”, rather take a deep breath, and then take another one. Assume positive intent – very few people want to cause trouble, and almost everyone has good intentions that drive their point of views and behaviors. Everyone has good reasons and wants to do the right things.

Assuming positive intent helps you to take some of the emotions out of an interaction. It allows you to take the other’s perspective for a moment and see things through their eyes. You will be able to understand where they are coming from, or if you don’t, you will at least be curious enough to investigate and (hopefully) ask them. There are so much power and beauty in actually talking to people instead of just assuming.

Assuming positive intent, and seeking to understand what the other person wants to achieve, will help you to understand their goals. More often than not, those goals will not be too different from yours. You might identify a shared vision with the other person, and with that, find a solution that leads to a win-win for everyone.

Sometimes it’s hard when emotions are high, but take a few deep breaths, assume positive intent, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see what new solutions arise from that expanded perspective.


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