Fundamental of the Week #24: Assume Positive Intent

Work from the assumption that people are good, fair, and honest. Set aside your own judgments or preconceived notions and give people the benefit of the doubt. Look for the positive intent in their actions and communications.

I was coming back to my office this morning after some early morning blood tests for a physical, when I heard we had lost Tom Petty. Now my wife, who knew I was having some lab tests, is a huge Tom Petty fan. I promptly called and without thinking said, “I have some heartbreaking news,” thinking the pun a little clever. I heard a sudden gasp and muffled cry as I was about to say Tom Petty died! Marlene promptly took me to task for scaring the hell out of her.

How many times a day does our personal set of “life filters” lead us down a path of misinterpretation of what others are saying to us, or what we see or hear others do? Do those misinterpretations, left unchecked, often make us the gatherer of poor information on which we often make important decisions? In other words, we are often making decisions and judgments of others based on assumptions of negative intent on their part. Assumptions that are often misguided or false. We rarely check those assumptions, moving blindly forward, resolute in our judgment. Don Miguel Ruiz comments on this in his book “The Four Agreements,” “95% of the beliefs we have stored in our minds, are nothing but lies, and we suffer because we believe those lies.”

You and I have a fair amount of compassion for the errors we personally make, knowing our hearts are in the right place. What if we applied that same level of generous compassion to others, especially when we disagree with them? I know that when I do that, as I have done more frequently, I’m happy to say my ability to hear what others have to say leads me down paths of fruitful resolution a significant amount of the time.

Reality is really tricky business because we think what we believe or perceive is real, and it mostly isn’t. If we can recognize that we are so often flying blind and that what we think is going on may not be, perhaps the result will be greater compassion and curiosity. Curiosity is the second step to listening generously: that is checking my assumptions with another when I think their intent is negative. It doesn’t take any more time and often less. And it certainly makes it a lot easier to give someone the benefit of the doubt and, possibly even be able to see their positive intent.

All I really know is the more I am able to do that, the richer the outcomes seem to be.

Craig Clark
Founder and CEO,
Momentum Consulting, Inc