workers with positive intent

“I know my life is better when I work from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can.” — Brené Brown, Dare to Lead 

At the heart of a supportive, motivating culture lies the practice of assuming positive intent. When employees adopt a ‘benefit of the doubt’ mentality, it frees their minds from past experiences and triggers that may lead to presumptions about someone’s words or actions. Instead, they proactively choose to see good intentions, which can have an incredible ripple effect across an organization.  

5 Benefits of Positive Intent

1. Furthers psychological safety and performance: A culture that assumes positive intent promotes understanding and is more likely to view missteps as opportunities for growth. A fail forward culture is rooted in psychological safety, where one feels comfortable challenging the status quo without fear of repercussion. And when employees feel safe to take risks and stretch beyond their comfort zones without judgment, organizations are more likely to innovate quickly.

2. Enhances connection and teamwork: Assuming the best of team members will allow staff to be more open to and curious about the motivations and challenges of colleagues. An open-minded approach strengthens connections and empathy among teammates, facilitating a collaborative environment where everyone feels Highly collaborative cultures are better equipped to tackle complex problems through their diverse strengths and the application of diverse insights.

3. Improves communication: Individuals who adopt a mindset of positive intent are more likely to seek clarity when confusion arises. Rather than making up stories or ascribing a judgment, employees can pause and ask questions to understand the purpose and meaning of a colleague’s words or actions. Remaining curious helps curate powerful conversations.

4. Boosts engagement and productivity: Employees who can more readily let go of negative assumptions and embrace optimism tend to see positive outcomes. One study found that workers who ranked high for optimism were six times more likely to be highly engaged at work. And with engagement comes productivity. In fact, happy, engaged workers are 13% more productive.

5. Increases well-being: Exercising a positive frame of mind at work will benefit every individual. Positive psychology has been shown to decrease depression, stress and anxiety while improving happiness, resilience, health, self-efficacy and wellness. These personal impacts ultimately add up for the entire organization given the high cost of workplace burnout.

How To: Harness Positive Intent

1. Pause: Start with a simple yet powerful tool: the art of the pause. When faced with an interaction that is scratchy, take a moment to be present. A brief interlude provides space to check in with one’s emotions and allows for additional information to be identified before forming a conclusion. By taking a pause, individuals can shift from reaction to response mode, paving the way for more constructive and empathetic exchanges.

2. Reflect: After allowing for a break, zoom out and imagine being in the other person’s shoes. Consider what is fact and what may be a value judgment. When colleagues reflect on their own words and how they might have been misconstrued, it can help to avoid misunderstandings.

3. Question: If there is confusion about the meaning of a counterpart’s words or actions after the first two steps, embrace curiosity to uncover the true intention. Ask a colleague to say more about the situation from their perspective. It can also be helpful to demonstrate giving them the benefit of the doubt by using phrases like, “I imagine you probably didn’t mean it this way, and…” Starting off your inquiry with a statement of the positive presupposition of what was meant will provide them with an opportunity to clarify their intention.

4. Express: It’s important to stay true to and honor your feelings. After asking a teammate a clarifying question, be transparent about how their words were perceived. To bolster understanding, share “I” statements and restate what the other was saying before offering your take. Using one’s point of view can help to bridge any intent-impact gaps that might have taken place and strengthen your understanding of each other, mutually benefiting the relationship.

The power that comes from even just one person clearing their mind of previously held beliefs and acting with empathy can influence others to do the same. Modeling the assumption of a positive intent in the workplace creates space to improve the communication process and empower teams to work together effectively. Just imagine the effect it would have if the whole organization adopted an empathetic mentality.  

Discover how Emergenetics can help foster a supportive, communicative culture. Visit our website or fill out the form below to speak with one of our team members today! 


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