Assume Positive Intent

It sounds simple, but is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It’s also one of the most powerful and influential actions you’ll ever take.

Three examples of personal frustration from the last few days:

  • Stuck in traffic, travelling along next to the cones and finding that in 2 miles of delay and frustration are three vans, one digger, three people, and only one with a shovel.
  • Being overtaken on a bend, and watching the culprit swerve madly to keep control.
  • Finding myself stuck on the wrong side of the road due to parked cars and someone in front refusing to move along.
So you can yell, grind your teeth, get worked up in any way you like, swear, gesture – and all for what?
Just for a moment I’d like you to think about the other side of the situation. Those workmen were probably waiting for a delivery of materials to get going (it was early in the morning), the crazy driver could easily have had a child taken into hospital and be desperately trying to get there – and the person in front of me in line had stopped to let a someone cross the road. 
Assuming positive intent involves suspending the negative, and looking for a reason why YOU would behave that way.
In the business world it’s more likely to be people telling you how to do your job, not having calls returned, a frustrating change in policy, an online training you MUST take or a team member letting you down.
But before I address this – let me ask one simple question.
Did you come into work this morning to be a pain in the ass? To screw up someones day? To try and be really, really bad at your job?
If the answer is “Yes” to any of those, go and see a doctor immediately, you need help.
So why assume that those around you in the world are trying to do the same? The most common cause for this conversation with my clients is around managers receiving ‘advice’ from peers or staff.
Picture the scene – you’re sat at your desk when Bob from the finance team comes over and asks for a minute of your time. You’re a sales manager – and he starts talking about a new sales strategy to you. He’s got this ‘great’ idea for a new market, and a new approach to clients. 
In your head, one of two things is almost certainly happening. 
Option 1 “Go away Bob, I hate finance, they screw up my deals. I could tell you a thing or two about what to improve – and you have no idea about my job. Go and sort out your own problems before you come talk to me about mine.”
But if you’re really smart, you’re going with Option 2.
“Hmmmmm, Bob knows I have problems with finance, but he’s still taking the time to come talk with me. He didn’t come in to work today to screw up, so he clearly thinks this is important – I’m going to listen, and I’m going to give him my full attention for the next few minutes”.
Option 1 has an absolute 100% chance of gaining you nothing at all.
Option 2 can provide a whole lot of benefits
Worst case – Bob could be telling you stuff you already know, but cannot implement due to factors out of your control. But you just made a friend – because you listened, and maybe that starts dialogue that solves your problems with finance.
Best case – Bob spent an evening with Lou Gerstner recently, and wanted to pass on some wisdom and observations that had been made about your company.
Regardless, assuming positive intent will ALWAYS benefit you, your company – and more importantly those around you.
So today, commit yourself to spending the next 24 hours doing just that. Assume positive intent with your colleagues, your friends and your family. See what a difference it makes.
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