Successful Supervisor 68 Assume Best Intent

March 10, 2018

Assuming best intent is a simple concept that can save a lot of grief and acrimony in any organization. Human beings have a curious way of jumping to conclusions when something done by another person does not track with expectations.

We jump to assign blame and think of all the evil things that might be behind the action. In doing so, we fail to take into account a myriad of alternate scenarios that might explain the paradox as something more benign.

We have all experienced this phenomenon, and there is a simple antidote. Assume the best intent rather than the worst.

As a supervisor, you can teach the people on your team to assume the best intent if there is any doubt. This action will enhance the trust level between people and prevent unnecessary squabbles.

A place to view this phenomenon most easily is in e-mail communication, especially with workers from different shifts. One person will dash off a note and make a statement like, “Did you go home without cleaning up the machine?”

The person reading the note will say to himself, “Ed is clueless. He obviously is out to try to embarrass me with this note. I don’t care if he is having a bad day or not, he has no business accusing me of being lazy. I did clean the machine correctly before going home.”

So, what started out as an inquiry note from Ed, turns into the fuel for an e-grenade battle. The response coming back to Ed assumes the worst intent, so it is far off base in Ed’s mind. Ed writes back a blistering note, and we are off to the races.

Several days later, after numerous notes and escalating distribution lists some manager steps in and asks these two feuding juveniles to stop the food fight. All of this acrimony and conflict could have been avoided if the recipient of Ed’s first note assumed the best intent rather than the worst.

He would have stayed over the next shift change to talk it over with Ed saying, “Your note was confusing to me. I’m sure that I left the machine ready to run, but maybe someone else ran some product after I went home and messed things up again.” Then Ed could apologize for seeming to imply the other worker was too lazy to clean up on a shift change.

This technique is helpful for all forms of communication, not just the online environment. If we teach people to assume the best intent whenever there is a disconnect, it prevents people from going off on each other inappropriately. It creates a significant reduction in conflict, and since conflict often gets amplified in the pressure cooker of the work environment, this little remedy can save a lot of hurtful turmoil.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Pooper Scooper at Work

July 16, 2016

My wife saw a truck the other day with an advertisement on the side for an organization called “Doody Master.” For a fee, they will come to your yard and scoop up all the little doggie muffins they can find. I suppose there are worse jobs, but really that is about the bottom (sorry, no pun intended there).

She suggested that many organizations need someone to scoop up all the human doody that people leave around the office for each other. How quaint!

Human beings working in close proximity have a remarkable capacity for driving each other crazy. It happens in organizations of all sizes and types; there are few exceptions.

When we do find an organization where people do not leave nasty little messes for their co-workers to step in, we will see a culture of trust and respect at the core.

The more I thought about it, I realized there are actually categories of doody, and maybe we could be more effective if we eliminated the sources of the mess.

What a novel idea: prevent the doody in the first place, and it eliminates the requirement to clean it up. Here are some prevention ideas:

Assume best intent

When something does not seem right, people have a tendency to assume something evil has prompted it. For example, if you get an e-mail from a coworker asking where you were yesterday, you might assume she was trying to scold you for missing an important meeting.

You might drop some doody with a sarcastic note back stating, “I intentionally missed that meeting – I figured it was totally useless.” After reading your reply, she calls to tell you that her inquiry was because she came to your office yesterday to deliver a late birthday gift, but you weren’t there.

Assuming the best intent until all the facts are in would prevent many nasty messes from ever happening.

Forgive and forget

Grudges can linger on for years in some circumstances. People who are angry with each other go out of their way to make life miserable for the other person. They undermine the positive things and set the rival up for failure whenever possible.

It becomes like a food fight of childish behaviors. Some Twitter exchanges come to mind when thinking about a food fight.

The antidote here is to remember that we are adults and try to act that way most of the time. Cut the other person some slack. There is no need to toss those mashed potatoes.

Don’t be a Chicken Little

We all probably know someone at work who goes around spreading gloom every single day. It is as if there is not enough pain and worry in the world, and this person is self appointed to correct the problem.

Imagine the impact on your organization if you could wave a magic wand and have the most negative person in your group turn into someone who always looks on the bright side of life: sort a reincarnation of Mary Poppins.

It really can happen, if the negative person is handled properly by leaders. I have written on how to accomplish this feat in my books. The technique is to “adopt” the negative person, find out what makes him or her tick, and begin to enroll this person as a positive force rather than a negative anchor.

With time and commitment, most negative individuals can be turned into positive forces within the organization. It is not possible to save every negative person, but each one that can be turned around creates major improvements in the overall culture.

Turn “gotchas” into “thank yous”

By creating a culture of respect and trust, we can reduce the human tendency to catch others doing wrong things and to rub their noses in it like when trying to train a puppy not to make a mess on the carpet.

When people look out for the good in others, they learn to find the best parts, and things go a lot more smoothly after that. The Pygmalion Effect is more pervasive and stronger than we realize.

When we seek to find the good in others, it is there in abundance.

Unfortunately, if we are looking for dodo, we are sure to find plenty of that to step in as well. It is a matter of mindset.

Use Your Emotional Intelligence

Whenever someone says or does something that really pushes your buttons, try to take a step back and consider the implications of your reaction to the stimulus. By refusing to take the “bait” that was dangled by the other person, you are taking the high road, and you come out the winner.

Try to take greater pleasure in avoiding a nasty confrontation than you would by putting the other person in his or her place. The trick is to build in some dwell time and not flash a response when the bait is thrown your way. It takes great restraint and some practice, but the rewards are delicious.

The most powerful way to prevent interpersonal messes is to remember we are not Golden Retrievers. Instead, seek to use the Golden Rule every day, and see a greatly reduced need to clean up ugly messes at work.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Organizational Pooper Scooper

January 2, 2012

My wife saw a truck the other day with an advertisement on the side for an organization called “Doody Master.” For a fee, they will come to your yard and scoop up all the little doggie muffins they can find. I suppose there are worse jobs, but really that is about the bottom (sorry, no pun intended there).

She suggested that many organizations need someone to scoop up all the human doody that people leave around the office for each other. How quaint! Human beings working in close proximity have a remarkable capacity for driving each other crazy. It happens in organizations of all sizes and types; there are few exceptions. When we do find an organization where people do not leave nasty little messes for their co-workers to step in, we will see a culture of trust and respect at the core.

The more I thought about it, I realized there are actually categories of doody, and if people would stop and think before taking action, they could usually prevent the need for an organizational pooper scooper. Here are some prevention ideas:

Assume best intent

When something does not seem right, people have a tendency to assume something evil has prompted it. For example, if you get an e-mail from a coworker asking where you were yesterday, you might assume she was trying to scold you for missing an important meeting. You might drop some doody with a sarcastic note back stating, “I intentionally missed that meeting – it was a load of crap.” After reading your reply, she calls to tell you that her inquiry was because she came to your office yesterday to deliver a late birthday gift, but you weren’t there.
Assuming the best intent until all the facts are in would prevent many nasty messes from ever happening.

Forgive and forget

Grudges can linger on for years in some circumstances. People who are angry with each other go out of their way to make life miserable for the other person. They undermine the positive things and set the rival up for failure whenever possible. It becomes like a food fight of childish behaviors.
The antidote here is to remember that we are adults and try to act that way most of the time. Cut the other person some slack.

Don’t be a Chicken Little

We all probably know someone at work who goes around spreading gloom every single day. It is as if there is not enough pain and worry in the world, and this person is self appointed to correct the problem. Imagine the impact on your organization if you could wave a magic wand and have the most negative person in your group turn into someone who always looks on the bright side of life.

It really can happen, if the negative person is handled properly by leaders. I have written on how to accomplish this feat in my books. The technique is to “adopt” the negative person, find out what makes him or her tick, and begin to enroll this person as a positive force rather than a negative anchor. With time and commitment, most negative individuals can be turned into positive forces within the organization. It is not possible to save every negative person, but each one that can be turned around creates major improvements in the overall culture.

Turn “gotchas” into “thank yous”

By creating a culture of respect and trust, we can reduce the human tendency to catch others doing wrong things and to rub their noses in it like when trying to train a puppy not to make a mess on the carpet. When people look out for the good in others, they learn to find the best parts, and things go a lot more smoothly after that. The Pygmalion Effect is more pervasive and stronger than we realize. When we seek to find the good in others, it is there in abundance. Unfortunately, if we are looking for dodo, we are sure to find plenty of that to step in as well. It is a matter of mindset.

The most powerful way to prevent interpersonal messes is to remember we are not Golden Retrievers. Instead, seek to use the Golden Rule every day, and see a greatly reduced need to clean up ugly messes at work.