Society trains us to assume negative intent, but what if we assumed the opposite?
Recently I was preparing for a talk I was to deliver to the #1 construction company in Kansas and having a few phone conversations with one of the leaders of the company reviewing the talk points, goals of the day, and getting more input on the company’s key culture points. It was in one of the last discussions with Todd, that he was talking to me about “assuming positive intent” in all that we do. And for them, as they interact as a team or with clients, they want their teams of people in any situation to not assume “the other person” has any sort of agenda, or is deciding to strictly benefit them, or is gaming the system. We live in a world that has conditioned us to be suspicious, to believe if someone says something to good it isn’t true. If someone disagrees with us or calls us out in an area we may need to improve on, we get defensive and may even feel threatened. We live in a world filling our heads with assuming negative intent, much of which at the government and entertainment industry levels are true. But in private business, we have a tremendous opportunity to “think differently” and shed the thought of assuming negative intent, and intentionally replace it with assuming positive intent. As someone questions us, let’s assume they are trying to improve upon the situation or the knowledge base of the action and not trying to criticize us or threaten our existence. If someone offers advice to a matter, assume they have no hidden agenda. We need to condition ourselves to give people the benefit of the doubt, quit assuming the worst, and assume they had positive intentions. We need to assume people are making decisions regarding their actions with the best intentions, and are doing the best they can.
As I lined out those comments, who reading this has assumed negative intent?? Who has assumed negative intent in the last 24 hours?? I work to be positive in all aspects of life every single day, but admit, assuming negative intent in the last week has occurred with me! The trouble is, assuming negative intent is the easy thing to do for our human mind. Assuming positive intent that someone is truly trying to help us improve and looking out for our or the organization’s best interest takes work, humility, and transparency of the mind. We see people all over social media constantly pushing conspiracy theories and promoting negative intent factions. But imagine a world in which we band together like butterflies to create a butterfly effect of assuming positive intent?! Imagine a business that talks about this routinely and implements an assume positive intent core value! Imagine a community coming together in open conversation with all people assuming positive intent, rather than factions constantly promoting conspiracy theories. Imagine a federal government so humble, so transparently honest, and courageously vulnerable by assuming positive intent rather than just “winning” the argument!
We have a great opportunity to CHOOSE to think differently. If we want a different outcome, we must CHOOSE to think differently. It is completely possible that someone in your organization or community does not have good intentions and could be playing the system. But we must welcome everyone in, be kind, be honest, yet candid, and maybe with time, you can change them. Enforcing a core value or virtue of assuming positive intent with either bring them into the fold and change or make them feel uncomfortable enough to leave most likely. If we enforce an assume positive intent virtue, be it in business, family, or community, we will get a resulting 3 benefits. The first will be improved communication followed by improved relationships. Often times as we assume negative intent, we then stop communication rather than build a conversation. As we assume positive intent, we embrace an attitude of learning from the other person, and as a result, the other person tends to be more open with you. As dialogue opens up, more conversations are had, trust develops, and relationships grow. The second thing that occurs, is after relationships develop from assuming positive intent in our lives, the opportunity will come knocking at your door. With opportunity, comes growth potential. If we can be 100% open and honest with each other, be respectful, listen to learn through a nurtured and cultivated process, we can grow. Simply, opportunity comes through positivity, and negativity only brings about adversity, disadvantages, and endings.
The final benefit of intentionally enforcing a virtue of assuming positive intent is the continual building of trust. The prior two benefits cultivate a crop of trust. Assuming positive intent grows conversations. Conversations grow relationships. Relationships grow trust. Trust grows opportunity. And with great trust comes great experiences!! At the end of the day, almost all of us just want to have great experiences, be it at home, in business, and in community. Every time I have assumed negative intent, growth STOPS. Period. The relationships I have formed over the years, and the ones that have flourished, survived, and still thrive today, there are no negative intent assumptions. But this occurs because of great communication. Conversations must be had, and had without assuming they have a hidden agenda or are attacking us, or negatively questioning our decisions. We must assume their conversations are an avenue to help us improve and grow. We must assume they have the best intentions in mind, and that they are doing the best they can. In order for us to grow, to inspire others, or change someone’s life we must have an instilled virtue of assuming positive intent! Otherwise, your true growth will never occur!