The Power of Assuming Positive Intent

Positive Intent

Do you ever get so wrapped up in your to do list, in your, “I’m so busy” mindset, that you are short with those around you? It’s as if your stress somehow gives you permission to release that angst into the world. And whoever is in the vicinity, beware!


Please tell me I am not the only one who falls into this less than preferred behavior. This past Spring was one of those times. In one week, I had three programs. The first was for a small group on Connected Leadership, then a hands-on team experience building upon the values and culture work already started, and the last was a large group Collaborative Communications program.


It was a lot. I was mentally and physically fried.


In my Leadership Brand program, I run an exercise about assuming positive intent. I explain, as the intelligent species that we are, human beings can take in limited information and form conclusions very quickly. This is an innate skill that can be very useful, it creates efficiency and allows us to think and act quickly.


The challenge is, we may be jumping to conclusions, and we tend to believe these conclusions. As a result, we take in all further information through that lens, seeking to prove ourselves right. After all, who doesn’t like to be right? That is basically confirmation bias in action.


To counter this tendency, I propose we slow down our thinking and stay open to the possibility of being wrong.


During that extremely stressful and busy week, I needed to take my own advice. My VA went radio silent and didn’t respond to my emails, didn’t show up for our scheduled call, it would have been very easy to assume the worst.


Though I was feeling increasingly frustrated, I reminded myself there was likely information about the situation that I didn’t have. For example, I knew that she had recently been dealing with some health challenges.


Instead of jumping to conclusions, getting annoyed, or saying the dreaded, “I think we need to talk,” I consciously chose to keep an open mind and assume positive intent. I composed an email expressing my concern that some of my messages may have been lost or unseen due to technical issues, or perhaps I was ending up in spam. I copied both her personal and work emails to increase the odds of one getting through.


I got a super-fast reply and as it turned out, it was indeed a technical glitch. She had no idea. She thought I was out of touch because I was busy, a very reasonable conclusion on her part. Once she knew that wasn’t the case, she figured out the problem and had our email connection back up in no time.


If I had assumed that I was being ignored or dismissed, it could have damaged our working relationship or even led me to reconsider working with her. However, by assuming positive intent, we were able to resolve the situation in a way that strengthened our working relationship. Doreen and I both felt better after the interaction, and it served as a needed reminder for me to check my assumptions and remain open to other possible explanations.


I wanted to share this story to exemplify the tremendous power of assuming positive intent. But also, to let you know that I too use these concepts in my everyday interactions.


Is there a situation that you are facing where slowing down and staying open would make a difference? Take a moment and reflect on the assumptions you may be making. Are you jumping to conclusions that may be damaging relationships or hindering your desired result?


By assuming positive intent, we can create more understanding, preferred outcomes, and of course, stronger relationships. Let me know how it worked for you.

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