Do You Assume Good Intent?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone doesn’t return a phone call or email?  When you’re stood up for a business meeting with a prospect, where does your mind go?  A good friend is a no-show for a lunch you planned, what’s your reaction?

If your response to all these situations leans towards something negative, there is a good chance your ability to assume good intent is lacking. That unreturned phone call must mean they’re avoiding you.  The customer that stood you up means they must be going with a competitor’s product or service.  That friend that missed the lunch date doesn’t value the relationship.  Those are assumptions that could right, but they could also be completely wrong. 

Negativity Bias?

The science behind this is referred to as negativity bias.   The human brain has a natural tendency to remember negative experiences more than positive ones. Your brain dials in on the threat (whether it’s real or not). A simple example might be a bad experience at a restaurant.  One bad experience may erase the credits of ten previously positive experiences and you’re brain instinctively starts telling you to consider other nearby restaurants.

Another example is when you get feedback on something – you might have a dozen people say nice things about your article, presentation, whatever… but the one that you remember and obsess on is the single negative response.

Here’s an idea worth trying – What if your first reaction when someone doesn’t respond in the way you would expect them to, is that you don’t immediately judge them and you assume they had good intentions.  It may sound complicated, but it’s really just changing your perspective of the situation.  

By withholding judgment and first assuming their intentions were good, you’re less likely to say or do something you might later regret.  It will get you to pause and think about your response to the situation instead of jumping to a conclusion before you know all the details.

Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes different.”

-Indra Nooyi former CEO of PepsiCo

Trust and Good Intent….

Most successful leaders in business will tell you that trust is one of the pillars in their business.  Trust between the management team, trust with vendors, customers, and with their employees.   It’s fair to say all businesses strive to have trust in their business.   In Lencioni’s Five Disfunctions of a Team pyramid, he made trust the #1 foundational component of building a team.

The question is how many businesses really practice what they preach when they talk about trust as a value or foundational component in their business or life?  Be honest with yourself, if you experienced any of the three scenarios above would you have automatically responded they had good intentions, or would you be upset or angry?  If “trust” is one of your pillars, the first reaction should be there was good intent.   Again, it’s just changing the perspective on the situation.

The ability to assume good intent in every situation is not always easy.  But giving the person the benefit of the doubt will allow you to stay more positive and get more details on the what, why, and how.  It will force you to “Seek to understand, before being understood” (Covey’s Habit #5).  Take a deep breath; try to look at the situation from a positive point of view.  You’ll have more clarity of the situation, so your next step is more likely to come from a place where you’re responding with good intent too!    

With so much polarization in the world today, assumption of good intent may seem like a fairytale wish.  But at the end of the day, we still all have choices we get to make within our own circles of influence.  The challenge is to start there for one day, 24 hours. Give it an honest try in all your interactions and then consciously take a few minutes to reflect on it at the end of the day.   We would love to hear how your day went!

As always, we welcome any other thoughts you may have on this topic.

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach