I used to think it was other people, or certain situations and things that were holding me back from success. I thought that if I could change the people around me or get away from them or the situation, I would experience success. It was as if THEY were the source and reason for my dissatisfaction or frustration.
As I’ve matured spiritually and emotionally, I realized that wasn’t true. My biggest breakthrough in success, happiness, AND improving the quality of my relationships wasn’t changing the people around me, but instead changing my own perspective.
I learned to “assume positive intent,” meaning no matter what another person says or does, rather than immediately judging them, I instead would assume positive intent. I assumed they meant well or were doing their best.
How many times have we been subject to a driver cutting us off, or a harsh word or tone of voice? Too many to count right? But until I learned to assume positive intent, my first reaction was to judge the other person as rude, insensitive, a jerk, etc. I was judging that person without knowing anything about them other than what I felt they were “doing to me.”
Assuming Positive Intent means always starting from the idea that a person meant well or was doing their best, no matter what they say or do.
Mistrust Causes Misguidance
As a child you may have been taught to distrust, as I was. The dialogue of today’s society sounds familiar to what I used to hear from adults in my young life. “The government is out to get you,” “Big business is bad,” “The police are corrupt,” “Life is hard,” and “Rich people are evil.”
Over the last decade societal tensions have grown, and the divide has been fueled by salty politics, changing culture and the hyper-focused media. This has translated into a belief that people who are different from us, or people in power, or people with money, or people who believe something different… can’t be trusted.
When I started my first business in 2001, I was constantly worried about who would steal my ideas, or who would take advantage of our company. As a result of that ingrained mistrust, I attracted people that did indeed take advantage of the business. I teach the concept “You get what you focus on”, and back then I got exactly that. I was expecting to be taken advantage of, and that is exactly what I got.
Positive Intent in Leadership
In the spring of 2008, I decided to sell my company and start over completely, doing purposeful work. Succeed On Purpose and its parent company, Share On Purpose Inc., were born shortly thereafter as a result of this transformation.
Since I was basically starting over, I wanted everything to be different, including me and how I led. I made a list of things I wanted to change about myself, and at the top of the list was to learn how to be an authentic leader and, specifically, to assume positive intent all the time.
Many professionals are innately distrustful, whereas authentic leaders employ the powerful principle to “assume positive intent.” No matter what another person does, the authentic leader does not judge their behavior but rather “assumes” that the person meant well (or at least did not mean to cause harm).
Authentic leaders enter every exchange with an assumption that the person isn’t being deceptive or trying to cause harm. This “trust first” belief dynamically changes communication and instills a transparent culture.
When positive intent is first assumed, every person is given the benefit of the doubt. Trust is naturally extended – they were doing their best regardless of words or actions. This dramatically reduces judgement, which erodes trust and reduces the tendency of over-personalizing interactions. The Authentic Leader maintains a positive and productive energy, which translates to the team fortunate enough to work with them.
Positive Intent in Relationships
The more I assume positive intent, the better my relationships have become. With these quality relationships, I am more joyful, more loving and more giving. This has led me to two powerful truths:
- When I trust, I attract people who are whole, healthy and treat me with the respect and grace I deserve.
- When people do hurt me or take advantage of me in some way, rather than being mad, getting even or stewing in my pain, I assume they are simply trying to protect themselves. I trust they are struggling with their own issues, and doing the best they can, where they are. Like Joyce Meyer said, “Hurt people – hurt people.” I assume, no matter what, they had a positive intent.
To assume positive intent is not always the easiest change one can make, but by doing so it is a recipe for added joy and fulfillment in life. Guide yourself on a more positive life path and improved personal relationships by assuming positive intent!