Quite often we interpret an e-mail or something someone said to us in a negative light. Right after that, we get upset or stressed about it, only to find out later that our interpretation of the situation was not precisely accurate. Or in the worst-case scenario, we react to it with anger, which creates a spiral of misunderstanding, hurt feelings and lost “relationship chips,” especially in our professional lives. Let’s face it; we have all been there.
I can’t even count how many times someone accused me of ignoring their e-mails only to realize, they sent an e-mail to a different Maggie or made an error in the email address.
Take a second and honestly respond to this question. If you had 5 good little things happen to you in a day, 4 neutral and 1 less good (bad or mildly bad), which thing you are going to remember the most? We all know the answer, don’t we?
Why is that? Why do we tend to see more of the negative in others as opposed to the good?
It’s because of our so-called brain’s negative bias. In the caveman ages, this type of bias (focus on the bad, ignore the good) was necessary to save our lives. Human’s survival instinct allowed our race to expand and become a dominant species. Yey to us!
However, in the 21st century, this bias became more of an unnecessary system glitch and is hurting us more than protecting from life perils.
This glitch works in such a way that when we feel surrounded by bad or at best neutral qualities in others and barely notice the good ones, subsequently we feel less supported, less safe, and less inclined to be generous or pursue our dreams. And on the other hand, when another person gets the feeling that we don’t see much good in them, they are less likely to take the time and see the good in us. Sounds familiar? I am sure you can think of at least one moment from last week when this scenario happened to you.
So, what would happen then, if we tried to flip the script, made a conscious effort, and started assuming positive intent in our interactions with others?
Let’s explore four super-powers of assuming positive intent that all leaders can use.
1. Enhance your personal brand
As leaders we are always being watched, whether we want it or not. Leading by example can be a lonely gig.
Remember a time when a bad word slipped your tongue only so that you 3-year old could learn and use it at the most inconvenient moment in public? The same happens at work and your employees.
That’s why becoming self-aware and learning how to control and direct our negative emotions, will save us from falling into traps of doing something that can damage our reputation and we will later regret.
2. Become a better boss
When we assume positive intent when interacting with others, especially our employees they can see we are on their side. Just like you most people want to do a great job and be successful and are not planning to ruin anyone’s day.
Putting ourselves in other’s people shoes enables you to act with empathy and look at things from their perspective. This attitude allows our employees to trust us because they see we are on their side. With trust, we strengthen our relationships, create win-win situations, and in consequence, we can motivate people to help us succeed in our business mission.
3. Be more strategic
Moreover, when we take a moment, avoid reacting to issues and start assuming positive intent, we begin assessing the situation from different angles. Such an approach not only builds our strategy muscle but also with a changed perspective can reveal solutions that we would not have thought otherwise or present us with opportunities we did not expect.
It’s like coming out of a basement with only one small window to look outside to a large bright central room with windows giving you a panoramic view on the area.
Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed by how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different – Indra Nooyi
4. Grow into a happier person and with that a better leader
Assuming positive intent starts with our thinking. And Mahatma Gandhi described it the best, nothing more is needed.
Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior.
Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.
What can we do then to overcome our biases and become masters at assuming positive intent?
First, let’s recognize & acknowledge that most people just like ourselves are good human beings. Whatever they do, they want to do best they can and have no intention of making your life difficult. They want to excel at their job, be challenged and successful.
Secondly, let’s make a conscious effort to understand people’s point of view and put ourselves in their shoes. It will change our perspective on how we perceive them and allow us to be more empathetic. Maybe that e-mail from your peer that seems rude was sent it the midst of a crazy and stressful day, and they did not think about proofreading it? Or the mistake that your employee made that caused an escalation you had to deal with was because you did not communicate your expectations clearly?
Thirdly, let’s lead by example. Take a few moments to cool down before responding to an e-mail that seems rude. If you know you are clouded in your judgment by negative emotions, ask for help from people who do not have any stakes in the situation. Their interpretation and suggestions will help you become more objective and consider different scenarios.
Lastly, watch and enjoy the below TedX: Hardwiring happiness: Dr. Rick Hanson at TEDxMarin 2013.
The speaker shows a trick on how to rewire your brain to start consciously noticing and storing the good, as opposed to the negative. It’s worth watching!