ASSUME Positive Intent

iStock_000016008670SmallI was invited to participate in an introductory meeting to be on the Board for a cool, local non-profit.   I was flattered and excited. They had asked a few people who they were considering as future Board members to attend an exploratory meeting where we engaged in a wide-ranging discussion.  I never heard back from them and assumed they had chosen others.   Right?  Wrong!

Four months later, I received a warm invitation to attend their next Board meeting. Well yes it was bad form for them not to have provided a clear time frame or clear next steps after that exploratory meeting, and yes, it would have been easy for me to ask for clarification, but neither happened.  I did what I have done before; I assumed it was about ME.  It turned out they were going through challenging times that took precedence over everything else.

What not to do:

When people do not respond to our e-mails or phone calls, the first place NOT TO GO is “what did I do wrong?”   Think about it, it‘s rather narcissistic to believe that it is always about us.   We are most likely bit players in their dramas. Most people are dealing with overwhelming challenges (personal and professional,) mountains of e-mails, tight deadlines and, in those moments, we are not their top priority.

We typically judge others by their behavior and their actions (“they didn’t get back to me and that means_________”) — we put a spin on it that is rarely generous. Interestingly, we judge ourselves by our intentions and motives (“Oops, I was hoping to get back to her, but I am swamped with a very tight deadline, I’m sure she will understand”)

If we are experiencing a pattern of breakdowns, then it is a different conversation.  It may be personal; it may be someone we do not wish to work with in the future, it may require a crucial conversation, but let’s give first time offenders the benefit of the doubt.

Reframe the situation:

Most people believe they are doing the best they can and if they can’t do their best they have a reason that they think is justified. They have “reframed” the situation, telling another story that is more constructive, hopeful and flexible.   We need to do the same and cut them some slack.

By giving people an extra chance (or two) your understanding and generosity will often create a spirit of reciprocity.  They are likely to become very appreciative and this small act could open the door for improved work/personal relationships and possible new opportunities. If nothing else by holding positive intent and by not taking things personally you lower your stress, diffuse conflict and contribute to creating a more humane and generous world.

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