“Assume positive intent”, said the consultant during a fraught strategic planning session for a non-profit.
Those words made me pause because our brains tend to assume the worst. When we see someone do or say something out of line with our values we might think that person is mean or that person is thoughtless. But when we assume positive intent first, the explanation for their actions could be wildly different than when we believe the worst. Just assuming the positive opens us up for better listening and better collaboration.
We just purchased a new-to-us-home that we are remodeling before we move in. When we arrived for a day of work, we noticed cars had been driving across our lawn. Immediately both my husband and I started worrying that we were going to have neighbor problems. Later we learned that the neighborhood road next to us got paved and was undrivable. The panicked neighbors who all had to get to work came knocking but did not know how to get ahold of us. They were deeply sorry their cars smooshed our grass.
Often members, co-workers, competitors, and staff are actually on the same side. When we assume positive intent, we might realize we are on the same side faster.