How To Assume Good Intent

Its easy, just do it. Words to fail by and you won’t hear them from me. The phrase, “assuming good intent” is nothing short of transformational thinking and has been one of the most powerful phrases at my disposal in every area of my work life. However, I’ve found it takes an insane amount of practice and preparation to allow this thinking to set in. Preparing to assume good intent means you have to retrain your way of thinking well before you interact with people. For anyone like me who tends to “assume the worst” naturally, it is a true 180 on your approach to people and difficult conversations. Here are some helpful check points to help guide and propel you into better thinking patterns. Notice, they all start with you. This is the spark notes version and one day I hope to write an entire book on the concept of assuming good intent.

Check YOUR Intent — The famous philosopher Ru Paul, that old soul, has been saying this in a very different way. “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anyone else”. In other words, how do we first proactively believe others intentions are good if we don’t purpose in advance to have good intentions ourselves? Do your due diligence and ask yourself, “Are my intentions actually good here?”, “Do I have the other person’s best interest in mind?” If you skip the internal evaluation prior to the conversation, you are setting you and the other party up for failure. Always check your intent.

Check YOUR Input and YOUR Output — Let me clarify my definitions: Input — listening. Output — speaking. Before you can start believing that other people mean well, you need to recognize the value of being a superb listener. Input is key. Not being just a great listener, but being a SUPERB one. Do it excellently. Reconditioning your thinking to be an active and engaged listener reinforces the skill of assuming good intent. I’ll go as far as to say that good listening is actually an art and it involves asking meaningful questions, and coming to a shared understanding between you and the other party. Assign yourself to the role of “input” before you ever start a conversation and if you learn to talk less, you will speak volumes.

Check YOUR Posture — We communicate more non-verbally than we realize. Humble body placement and posture says so much about what you believe about yourself and others and therefore their intent. Do you see yourself as smarter, more competent, the expert? Do you see your colleagues as out to get you, superior, or maybe even unskilled? Whether you think any of these things or not, it will show up in your posture. Honest confession… I’ve done this so poorly before. I have started a meeting, a training session, or an online call and had the posture of a dictator with out even recognizing it. My intent in the moment was to clearly communicate the subject at hand, but the result was an obvious polarization of the other party. My posture said something entirely different than what I had intended and therefore, be very self aware of your body language as you engage with others. In a world where we value strength and confidence, communicating that you deeply value others and assume they mean well takes a strong display of humility. It is especially easy to spot a lack thereof in your posture.

How do you approach believing the best in others in your work life?