One secret to good relationships is to assume positive intent.
This applies to all sorts of personal and professional relationships—even chance relationships, such as customer service dealings.
Whenever you’re upset—even repulsed—by somebody’s off-putting behavior, try to push yourself to allow for the possibility that the perpetrator’s intent was fair, well-meaning, and wholesome. In other words, seek the least malicious explanation for their behavior.
Instead of getting irritated and judicious, if you pause to reflect and reconsider their actions by stepping into their shoe, you may see if you’re misconstruing what they’re saying or doing.
Assuming Positive Intent Can Herald a More Informed Vantage Point
When you assume positive intent, you get more insight into their actions and choices. Stepping mentally outside of whatever is happening to you right now allows you to assign it some context and mull over its significance. Possibly the other person is having a bad day. Maybe they are culturally or emotionally tuned to think and behave in a particular way. Perhaps the situation harks back at an earlier incident where they’ve been hurt and, therefore, are trying to protect themselves?
Assuming positive intent overcomes the human tendency by which we judge and rationalize our actions versus others’: when we make mistakes, we often blame the situation’s circumstances rather than take responsibility for the error. When others make mistakes, we tend to over-emphasize their role in mistakes—we blame them quickly and challenge their intentions.
You Can’t Change the Past, But You Can Change Your Perspective About It
Giving people the benefit of the doubt helps you identify the details of their situation. Assume the person causing your problem is giving it their best shot. Seek to understand. Empathize. You may be surprised to learn something that you hadn’t expected.
Your whole outlook on a problem transforms when you follow this approach. Becoming aware of your unconscious responses can allow a calmer, kinder response to conflict and frustration. It makes it easier to assimilate information and commiserate with people you’d rather not listen to.
How many misunderstandings, disputes, frustrations, and misgivings could be forestalled this way!
Idea for Impact: Assume Positive Intent. It’s the Foundation of High Trust. It’s a Huge Game-Changer.
Until proven otherwise, assume positive intent as you go about your day—even when somebody cuts you off in traffic. Misunderstandings will happen and can be resolved with reality-testing and understanding, grace, and dignity. Assuming positive intent allows you to retreat from the narrow, restrictive perspective that can aggravate the situation into two negatives fighting one another.
Now, then, assuming positive intent does not mean naïve goodness or unassertive deference to everything that’s happening to you. Beware blind optimism. Don’t overlook patterns of deliberate ill intentions and fundamental incompatibilities with their outlook on life.
Being pleasing and agreeable and wishing the best for everybody could blind you into refusing to accept the bare facts of an unfortunate situation and overlook others’ excesses. A noble view of the world is not always helpful. Sometimes problems are best nipped in the bud.
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