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Fundamental #20: Assume Positive Intent

Fundamental #20: Assume Positive Intent


The 30 Fundamentals that make up the “ConnectSMART Way” describe how we want to run our business – the way we treat our clients, the way we work with each other, and even the way we relate to our vendors and suppliers.  They’re who we are and they’re the foundation of our success.  They drive everything we do, every day. Each week we focus on a different fundamental and discuss in depth.

Fundamental #20: Assume Positive Intent 

ASSUME POSITIVE INTENT. Work from the assumption that people are good, and that the intent behind their actions is positive. Set aside your own judgments and preconceived notions. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

How many times have you heard the phraseFundamentals ”Don’t jump to conclusions”? For many, if they didn’t jump to conclusions they wouldn’t get any exercise at all! I don’t know who made that joke first, but it gets a chuckle because it is so true.  We  all make thousands of assumptions every day.  In fact, we are hard wired to make assumptions. From the time we are born our experiences start shaping our assumptions. Assumptions become a short cut for our brain to be able to process more information. The first time around we tend to learn something the hard way. The second time we have hopefully learned something and we assume that if we are told not to touch the stove because it is hot it probably will burn us. Though this is a simplistic example, I think it illustrates well the learned behavior behind assumptions.

Our brains take what we have experienced, what we know(or think we know) and forms a quick determination as to a likely outcome.  That assumption comes from our built in survival mechanism. Our ancestors did not continue as a species assuming that the rustle in the brush was always just a field mouse – they learned that it could be a lion, or a tiger or a bear (oh my). It reminds me of a story of a man who was on holiday in Kenya. While he was walking through the bush, he came across an elephant standing with one leg raised in the air. The elephant seemed distressed so the man approached it very carefully. He got down on one knee and inspected the elephant’s foot. There was a large thorn deeply embedded in the bottom of the foot. As carefully and as gently as he could he removed the thorn and the elephant gingerly put down its foot. The elephant turned to face the man and, with a rather stern look on its face, stared at him. For a good ten minutes the man stood frozen – thinking of nothing else but being trampled. Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned, and walked away. For years after, the man remembered the elephant and the events of that day. One day the man was walking through the zoo with his son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to where they were standing at the rail. It stared at him and the man couldn’t help wondering if this was the same elephant. After a while it trumpeted loudly; then it continued to stare at him. The man summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder. Suddenly the elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of the man’s legs and swung him wildly back and forth along the railing, killing him. Probably wasn’t the same elephant!

FundamentalsWe take what we have learned and associate the worst possible outcome automatically. This isn’t pessimism but survival.  However, most of the time the rustle in the grass isn’t going to kill us – especially in the world that we all live in. We tend to judge everyone around us by the outcome of their actions and we judge ourselves by our intentions. Outcomes are critical as we have discussed in Fundamental #11 “Deliver Results”, and we know that good intentions don’t make it right (The road to hell is paved with good intentions). This fundamental in no way relieves us if the burden to produce results.  It is one of those fundamentals that changes perspective.  Have you thought of judging yourself only by results and others by their intention? There is a fine line between assuming the best of others and stupidity as the previous story illustrates. So how do we balance naivety and giving others the benefit if the doubt? You can’t always believe what you see. The assumptions that your brain makes of what you see is how magic tricks work. You can’t always believe what you hear. How many times have you heard a song and missed the lyrics completely. Look up on YouTube misheard song lyrics. I think the key goes back to one of our fundamentals that most people deep inside think they are good at and everyone else isn’t – Fundamental #16 – Communicate to be understood. In survival preparing for and assuming the worst is vital.  In relationships it can be a killer.  The only way to come to a resolution is to put your assumptions on hold and communicate to understand and be understood.

Assuming positive intent doesn’t negate your own responsibility for common sense and discernment, but don’t just rely on those.  Get the  facts (Fundamental #27), and recognize that there is always another viewpoint that may be just as accurate (or more) than your own. So unless you are assuming positive intent, take a few minutes to question those assumptions and when you find you don’t have all of the facts, take the time to ask.






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