Don’t assume intent.

Photo by Artis Pupins (via CC)

Several months ago, my wife sent me a text during a normal, hectic, workday;

“I am so pissed,” she wrote.

In between meetings, I wrote back. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ll tell you when you get home.”

Not a good sign. When your significant other is so angry that they need to tell you right then, you know they’re having a bad day. And if it’s too much to put in a text message, then you know it’s complicated.

My wife used to try and call me in the middle of the workday, but after a while she realized that I usually didn’t have time to talk, so she altered her approach. I knew it was going to be a long evening.

One I got home, she filled me in on the drama in her office. It seems that there was an important meeting coming up, and she hadn’t been invited. Her boss had been included, as well as her colleagues, and she learned that they would be making decisions around some things that impacted her responsibilities and projects. She was fuming.

“Why would they do that?” she asked me. “It’s disrespectful, and they’re going to be talking about my work. Did they think I would not find out? Did they not care how that was going to make me feel?”

She vented for a while, and I can’t say I blame her. She was feeling threatened and concerned that others would be making decisions that impacted her job without her being in the room or getting her input.

“So have you asked your boss if you can attend?” I said to help her think of realistic solutions. “Maybe you should ask him fairly innocently about it, so you can get more information or ask to join them. Do you know exactly what’s going on?”

Turns out she didn’t. She had learned about the meeting thanks to an off-handed comment from a colleague, who gave her a short, two-sentence description of what they’d be discussing. In essence, it was second-hand info that she’s gotten through word of mouth. Hardly reliable stuff.

“You should talk to him before you blow up,” I told her. “Get your facts straight before you fly off the handle.”

My wife did just that, and discovered that the meeting was primarily set up to talk about something else unrelated to her job, and that her coworker was a bit misinformed of the purpose of the meeting. Her boss explained that he was prepared to keep the conversation from going in that direction and would ensure that nothing involving her projects would be discussed when she wasn’t in the room.

It’s hard for us to not jump to conclusions sometimes, especially when work gets stressful and we have a lot on our plate. And in today’s work environment, projects are often handled by teams where ownership of decisions and responsibilities are blurry at best.

As she got upset, my wife had created a narrative in her head where she was trying to analyze the motivations of others and tie that to her actions. This is great if you’re a writer or actor, not so much in Corporate America. By making assumptions about her colleagues, she was setting herself up to make a potentially awkward situation worse, and I’m glad she took a moment to realize that her mind was getting the best of her.

In short, we should never assume someone’s intent when it comes to business. Not only will we never know all the details, but this kind of thinking does us no good. It creates anxiety and anger that we can’t fix, or worse yet, those feelings cause us to blow up in an unprofessional manner.

Sometimes people get left off of meeting invites by mistake. Sometimes the information you hear isn’t correct. Sometimes there’s more going on behind the scenes than you know about (and a lot of times, those extra details or issues have nothing to do with you).

So instead of focusing on why we’re being slighted, overlooked, or ignored, we’d all be better off focusing on the solution. If we figure out how to get past roadblocks and clear up miscommunications with grace, professionalism, and polish, our reputation will improve, and we’ll have a lot less stress in our day-to-day lives.

It’s easy to make assumptions; we’re human after all. But if we learn to stop our brains once we get worked up, and remind ourselves “Don’t assume intent,” we’d be better off.

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