Have you had someone question your motives? Ever had someone assume something about your intentions that wasn’t true? If so, you know the sting of doubt caused when someone thinks the worst of you instead of the best. For stronger working and personal relationships, it’s important to assume positive intent when we interact with one another. 

What does this look like?

Give others the benefit of the doubt

We all make mistakes. Yet, somehow when someone else makes the mistake we attribute the fault differently than when we personally stumble. We have a double-standard. We overemphasize the other person’s role in the error when it happens and underemphasize our own role in a mistake when we err. Giving others the benefit of the doubt is one way to assume positive intent. Acknowledge that the same things that cause you to make a mistake are likely similar to what caused their error. Be quick to forgive and slow to blame.  

Remember there’s more to the story

You don’t know people as well as you think you do, especially co-workers. What you see in the workplace, in a social setting, or on social media is just a small part of their life. While the pandemic has maybe given us a broader lens into their personal lives as we’ve been introduced to our co-workers home and family, we still only see a glimpse into their world. Remembering that there’s more to their story helps us assume positive intent and broadens our level of empathy for one another. People may be struggling more than we think.  

Stay open to feedback

From time to time people are going to tell you something about yourself that you don’t like. You may not agree with their assessment or think their feedback is blatantly false. But, if you assume positive intent and accept this conversation as an opportunity for personal growth, you will be far less defensive when they share their thoughts. While you might need to agree to disagree on their assessment, look for the nuggets of truth, especially if you hear a repeated theme in people’s feedback. Defensiveness prevents you from learning and growing. 

Ask great questions

Good communication and open feedback requires great questions. If you are unclear about another person’s point of view or decision, ask a question. Assume positive intent and motivation when you ask questions by choosing your words wisely. Starting a question with “why” tends to shut down communication because the other person immediately feels like they have to defend their position. Instead of asking “why” questions, ask “how” or “what” questions. For example, turn “why did you make that decision” into “how did you arrive at that conclusion” or “what would you like the outcome of that decision to be?”. These simple grammatical choices lead to better communication by removing defensiveness and replacing it with positive intent. 

When you assume positive intent, you open the doorway to better relationships, both personally and professionally. Choosing this posture in life as you engage with others will improve your overall wellbeing while supporting the wellbeing of others, too.