November 9, 2020

Positve intent

Hello Leaders!

Welcome to the seventh (my favourite number!) edition of my LeaderLike You! blog!

With lockdown back for some, tensions may be running a little higher than usual. We – the global community, do not have a clear vision of what the future holds, and this can be destabilising! With small businesses closing again and no certainty as to whether we’ll be able to gather with loved ones for the holidays, you may be experiencing some feelings of anxiety and frustration.

We are the centre of our own universe – nobody has the same thoughts, responses or approach as we do. Like it or not, people do what people do. So, in this month’s blog, I’m going to discuss how to make ‘Assuming Positive Intent’ part of what YOU do, all the time.

Imagine you are driving down the road and the car next to you speeds up and then ends up getting in front of you. What’s your reaction? Most of us have learned to say “what a jerk” – which means we assume negative intent from the person driving the other car!

Last weekend I was backing into a parking place and left a lot of room for a mother and baby and possibly grandma to maneuver and get the stroller out of the car. As they passed by my car window, the grandmother raised her finger and moaned, “You need to look out where you are going and leave us a lot of room!”

I took a deep breath and thought about my reaction for a second, I had 2 instant thoughts:

  • 1: What a jerk! I know how to drive; I was not going to run them over – who does she think I am?
  • 2: Listen to her concerns and see the universal human need.
    Assume positive intent. She was expressing her needs for safety and that of her family.

I paused, smiled from inside my car and responded, “Absolutely. Take all the time you need with the stroller before we get out.”

While perhaps a habit for some of us – assuming negative or jerk intent has a cost, it drags us down. We end up working at the negative intent gym, full of unhappy, irritable and upset people, or with opinionated individuals who may not have our best interests at heart! That is not a place I want to spend time.

On the other hand, there is a skill called ‘telling yourself another story’. For example, maybe the other driver must get to hospital, or they just received bad news, or maybe they’re rushing to a job interview, after being unemployed for months? Any of the above could mean they are not paying attention to their driving etiquette.

When we practice the ‘telling ourselves another story’ approach, the world appears differently. We work out at a positive gym and build other muscles, such as resilience, positivism, forgiveness, and the ability to first assume positive intent – a gym full of well-mannered and happy, adaptable pragmatic people. A place where people mean well.

Does assuming positive intent mean we need to agree with, and condone everyone’s responses to everything? A decided and emphatic NO is the response to that question! Sometimes people make mistakes or even have nefarious intentions, though it’s an exception, not a rule.

Everyone is living their  life from inside their own universe bubble, where assuming positive intent is healthier for you, even if you’re wrong in your assumptions.

Let’s take this to a leadership level – what makes good leaders?

My leadership Septagon model (see below), examines many roles of a leader, stimulating the desire to inspire with clear, strategic examples.  

  • learn mental agility
  • be a great role-model
  • be accountable and giving
  • hear your people – (what went well and how to be eve better in the future?)

These leaderlike behaviors create trust and support the ability to assume positive intent.

So, what’s the starting point? Let’s face it, at work (and other places too), no-one gets everything right. Though when we assume positive intent, we create a better starting place.

I read a great article about positive intent by Robert Staub and he said: “It takes off the table, the issue that the other person is deliberately trying to screw things up. We are therefore not distracted at the level of some nebulous, non-provable, negative, mental state.”

Another benefit, aside from the neutral starting point, is the ability to point out to the other person, what went well and how they can improve in the future! This in itself is an expression of assuming positive intent about their ability to grow.

There is no shoulda, woulda, coulda – elements which imply they could have changed the past and didn’t!

I’d like to share a story which is a great example of assuming positive intent. I broke a precious glass plate, given to my wife by her late grandmother. I’d placed it on the bbq when my wife arrived with a very hot plate in her hands. I opened the bbq grill-top in order to gain time for my wife, so that she could place the hot plate! Unfortunately, the precious plate from grandmother slid off the back of the bbq and smashed in front of our eyes!

My wife was upset and I was guilty as charged! I apologised, and explained my positive intent, which was to make it easier for her to put the plate down. This diffused the situation immensely, I recommend highly explaining your positive intent when things go wrong!

We miss the plate, and it was a silly mistake. My wife didhear my apologies and she understood that my actions came from positive intent which made it easier for her to forgive me and accept the situation.

As a leader, partner, spouse, or friend go forth and assume positive intent, and be leaderlike in whatever you do!

Stay at peace with yourself, at peace with others and be leaderlike.
Look forward to bringing you a story next month,