Assume Good Intent

It may seem simple, but it changed my professional life. Years ago, I worked for a leader that made me think, analyze, and approach things from a different perspective. I will always be grateful to him for his wisdom and all that he taught me. I learned a lot from him, but the most important thing was, “Assume Good Intent.” It was a mantra he pounded into our leadership team regularly, and it was life-altering. When you look at actions through the lens of “good intent,” you see things with an open mind. You become accessible, you become open to change, and you listen to understand instead of listening to respond (this is something we will talk about in a future article!)

Many of us have been conditioned to approach many workplace scenarios with negative intent. Whether through a series of bad experiences or by adopting the general attitude of the companies where you have worked, we have been trained to always be on guard and act defensively in many situations. However, positive intent, at its core, simply means giving people the benefit of the doubt, as opposed to assuming that they are out to get you. How can you adopt this practice in your work life? And how can you encourage others in your organization to do the same? In this article, we will give you some tips and tricks for practicing positive intent.

Take a Breath

We have all received a passive-aggressive email from one of our colleagues and felt the urge to reply defensively. This tip might sound simple, but it can be challenging to put into practice. Before making any decision, or sending that sassy email back to your colleague, simply take a couple of deep breaths. Taking a few seconds just to do a gut-check on a decision will prove beneficial because you may find that you have been approaching the situation wrong. Is there a possibility that your colleague was simply in a rush to send out the email? Could you be reading the tone wrong? Taking a breath to consider this might help you diffuse a situation and avoid further hostility.

Get a Second Opinion

If you feel that someone in your team may be operating with negative intent, and you have reason to believe that they may be “out to get you,” consider talking to another person in your team about this. Do they have the same negative experience as you? This is a way to gauge whether or not you might have misinterpreted the signals sent by this colleague. If they do feel that this colleague is operating with negative intent, you can consider talking with the person directly, or if you are uncomfortable doing so, talking to your manager. Having a one-on-one conversation may help you overcome any differences you might have to operate more smoothly in the future.

Practice What You Preach

Possibly the most powerful thing you can do is to practice what you preach, especially if you are in a leadership position. Make positive intent a practice in your work life and make it known to your colleagues that you are doing so. If you are in a leadership position, you can teach your team about positive intent and encourage them to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that their colleagues have their team’s best interests at heart. Encourage them to help their peers navigate tricky conversations with coworkers or clients and urge them to come to you if they are unsure of how to deal with a situation. Remember that they will be looking to you to see how you are living with positive intent in the workplace.

Positive intent is a powerful tool for both your personal and professional life. In the workplace, you will find that giving people the benefit of the doubt will increase trust within your team and will build your employees’ confidence as they learn that they are trusted to make the right decisions. Not only that, but you may find that positive intent will spill over to your private life, enabling you to better deal with tricky situations with your friends and family.

Is your organization practicing positive intent? Is this something that you would consider implementing? Let us know in the comments!

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