Bad things happen more often than you expect. When you're frustrated with someone else, it's easy to allow your inner monologue to tell the story of hate and mistrust. It almost feels natural to turn those who hurt us into villains in our head. Your world is so much simpler when the people who do you wrong are "bad" and the people who love and support you are "good."
But life is not that simple, is it? The world lives in the grey area between the black and the white; the good and the evil. And this is especially true at work. It's so easy to draw imaginary lines between the people you feel closest to and the "enemies" who seem to thwart your best efforts. In our mind's eye, it's so easy to get wrapped up in our internal drama and then triangulate--that is, divide up the company between those who "get" us and those who don't.
This "us vs. them" approach is not only unhealthy, but it becomes a Cancer in your organization. Tensions become invisible walls of mistrust and spite until it all boils over into an unprofessional blow out of some kind and this is never good for you, your colleagues or your company.
How Assuming Good Intentions Diffuses The Situation
Let's be clear. Perfection is an illusion. It is rare that your company culture is perfect and without tension. This is mostly because we are all human and by definition we are inherently flawed. We strive to be better but can only do so if we acknowledge our own faults and weaknesses. One way to get better in our relationships is the simple act of "assuming good intentions."
This powerful concept allows us to take an altogether different perspective when it comes to conflict. The next time you feel slighted or bristle at a comment from one of your colleagues, stop yourself from taking offense and instead hear the underlying comment for what it was intended to be. By assuming good intentions from the speaker, we can side step the natural instinct to take "offense" at an off-handed comment directed in our general direction and instead focus on the issue that is being raised in the discussion.
Let's face it, most of us are not the best at articulating issues clearly and separating out the issue from the person who appears to be at the core of the problem. The best way to defuse a potentially negative situation is to give a time-out to our emotional reactions to negative comments and instead focus on the underlying issue that is being raised.
Separating Personalities and People from Progress and Potential
Why do we come together as a company? Generally speaking, we are better together. Or, as some would say, "the sum is greater than the parts," meaning that the whole of the company is more powerful than any one of us as an individual. This is why we must work hard to separate out personalities and people from the company's progress and potential. By assuming good intentions, we can strip out any one of our team's inability to properly articulate the problem without implying who's responsible for the problem. When we can do this, we are able to side-step the proverbial mudslinging that inevitably is part of a "blame" culture.
By focusing on the progress and potential (over the personalities and people making the comments), we can better align ourselves for the good of the future growth of our organization. That is what assuming good intentions is all about.
Assuming Good Intentions Requires Patience and Hard Work
When someone in your organization says something that feels outlandish and off base, it's easy to bristle and reply back with snarky comments. What's much harder to do is keep your composure, take a deep breath and focus on the larger, broader issue at hand. Instead of taking the bait, truly hear the underlying issue that this person is attempting to bring to your attention. Usually the pain from the person speaking is what's driving the comment in the first place. Hear their pain and focus on how you can be part of the solution to the problem they are attempting to articulate.
That kind of patience requires a keen sense of focus and hard work. When you do it, however, you are truly spreading your leadership wings and leading by example. That patience and hard work is rewarded by more transparent and honest conversation and the ability to make more informed decisions based on all the available data and feedback.
So the next time you feel yourself bristle at an off-handed comment or when someone raises an issue that could be construed as your issue, take a deep breath and assume good intentions. With this perspective, you will allow yourself to respond appropriately and in the tone of someone who is looking to see the truth that compels the kind of growth and long-term success you want to see in your company.
Responding well to negative input is one of the important factors that drives our future growth. We learn a heck of a lot more from our failures than our successes, so it's important that we acknowledge that every project we take on may not be the "hit it out of the ballpark" success that we project that it will be. Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from the comment being made and assume good intentions from the speaker. You will find yourself in less conflict and more aligned with the people who you have joined and chosen to work with at your company.