Assume Positive Intent to Improve Business Interactions2 minute read

One of the best ways to improve any business interaction is to assume positive intent, that is, give people the benefit of the doubt. Assuming positive intent makes it possible to have a productive conversation without defensiveness shutting it down. What’s more, assuming positive intent demonstrates your leadership qualities. You show that you are seeking solutions instead of someone to blame.

Assume Positive Intent

Assuming positive intent means to consciously adopt that mindset that your colleague or customer is making their best effort to ensure a beneficial result. This means starting from the perspective that they want what is best, just as you do, and they simply have a different perspective. Adopting this mindset opens up a dialogue to uncover your colleague’s thinking or your customer’s rationale. They may have a unique perspective on the situation that makes it possible for you to see the problem from a different angle.

When you assume negative intent, that immediately creates a barrier. People become defensive. They are resistant to ideas and perspectives that do not align to their way of thinking. When you assume an anterior motive, you can become angry. People pick up on that right away. Either they shut down or they become angry themselves. Either way, this does not lead to a productive outcome.

One approach that works well is to ask yourself, “What if my best friend were telling me this?” How would you react then? You would likely listen and try to understand. You would ask reasonable, non-threatening questions to gain more information so you fully understood their view.

Dealing With Negative Intent

It is entirely possible that someone does have negative intent. That may be what you ultimately uncover, but it is not common. Having different objectives that still align to the same goal is not negative. Maintaining the assumption of positive intent often helps people come around to actually working with you to find a beneficial result. They will “live up” the standard you are setting for them. When you uncover negative intent, taking what people say at face value accomplishes the same objective. They are forced to work toward a positive outcome even if they were originally attempting to thwart you, otherwise the duplicity becomes even more obvious. Assuming the positive intent works even if you know it is not true.

When you assume a positive intent, communication improves, relationships get better, and you establish trust. Assuming someone is doing the best they can reduces defensiveness and barriers to dialogue. You open yourself up to opportunities because you are actively listening and engaging—you are learning. Even if there is negative intent, you maintain the high ground and often people will shift their way of thinking around to something more positive.

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