Assume the Best Intentions

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a simple yet revolutionary concept. It is one that has changed my life and allowed me to view people and situations through an entirely different, more positive, lens. It is called, “Assume the Best Intentions.”

This mantra was introduced to me when I joined the Coaching Services department here at Blanchard. It is one of our team norms and actually reads like this, “We give people the benefit of the doubt and assume the best intentions.” Simple? Yes. Revolutionary? If you don’t already approach your daily interactions with this in mind, then yes.

Like many of you, I was taught a different saying about what happens when you “assume.” I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. Therefore, I rarely assumed anything. But, when I was introduced to this team norm, I was intrigued by this new idea and decided I’d buy in to it. I’m so thankful that I did because it has greatly improved my mental approach when encountered with challenging interactions and situations.

Now, when I get THOSE e-mails, I no longer immediately jump to the conclusion that the sender has it in for me or is trying to make my life difficult. I admit I used to go there and admit it, you sometimes do too. When I’m faced with one of these moments, I take a deep breath and briefly attempt to understand where the other person is coming from. I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have the best intentions. In most cases, they actually are coming from a good place and, surprisingly, really don’t have it out for you and aren’t trying to make your life difficult. I know, hard to believe but trust me on this one.

Keep in mind that in most cases the person that you are dealing with is trying to do what they believe is best given the knowledge that they have on the issue in question. Here’s the kicker…in most of those cases, that person’s knowledge is either limited or different than your own. That’s not a bad thing. However, it does require you to be a bit more patient and understanding.

Adopt this as one of your norms. When you give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they have the best intentions, you will be rewarded with a healthier mental outlook and more positive and productive interactions.

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  • Comments (20)
    • Patricia
    • April 13th, 2010

    This is so true! And what happens when you give someone the benefit of the doubt and assume the best, is that the approach invites better and more open communication.

    • Thank you Patricia. One cannot begin to underestimate the importance of open communication. It must be built on a foundation of trust, not one based in fear.

  1. If you want to be bold, next time someone rubs you the wrong way and you are trying to “assume the best intentions” share with him/her the impact of what you experienced and ask if that was their intention? It can lead to a healthy conversation.

    • Thank you Joni. Yes, be bold! Don’t be afraid to have a healthy conversation about the impact somone’s behavior had on you. Of course, depending on how wrong you feel you were rubbed, you might consider waiting until the initial impact from the person’s behavior has worn off so that you can return to the place of assuming best intentions. Have a healthy, not heated, conversation.

  2. Adam,

    I have really enjoyed reading your post!

    Over the years, I have learned to “assume the best intentions” when leading and working with teams. When getting or offering feedback, assuming the best intentions builds authentic relationships, trust and respect. End result, a more open and rewarding work environment.

    2 months ago I made someone’s day by giving her the benefit of the doubt (and assumed that she had a good reason for her decision) in front of her client. She approached me afterwards and explained how touched she was that I “believed in her”.

    A stronger relationship is forged following this type of interaction.

    The latest post on my blog by guest blogger Nancy Arruda, called “Look for the Intention and Find the Lesson” (http://readytofeedback.com/?page_id=1846) is related to this conversation.

    Sonia

    • Sonia, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your success story. It’s pretty amazing how something that requires such little effort, giving someone the benefit of the doubt, can make such a positive and impactful difference in your relationship. Hope everyone is taking notes!

  3. While I can certainly see the VALUE of “assuming the best intentions,” isn’t it the RESULTS that are most important?

    • Thank you John for the great question. Obviously, great intentions do not always translate into great results. However, acknowledging that the undesirable results were not malicious will set a firm foundation for achieving the desired results going forward. You can build trust with the person by having open dialogue to determine what happened and how you can work together to help ensure the best future outcome.

  4. In today’s society of instant messaging and text before thinking, this is a fabulous way of moderating your interactions with others.

    Thank you for sharing this outside of the Blanchard organizations.

    Brian

    • Thank you Brian for your comment. You are correct. Much of our communication today is in the form of words (IM, Text, E-Mail, etc.). It’s very convenient but also somewhat dangerous since those words can be interpreted so many different ways. It’s much safer, and healthier, to assume the best intentions instead of immediately jumping to conclusions.

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