In my last post, I offered three ways to Be a Victor, Not a Victim. In the context of conflict resolution, the thought is not about seeking victory during a conflict. Rather, the thought is about taking personal responsibility so that we don't “play the victim” by blaming the other party.
Today, I'm offering a thought that goes with my last post. A thought that will allow you to own your piece of the conflict much more easily. Simply put, the idea is this:
Consciously assume that the other person had a positive intention for whatever they did or said.
If you are anything like me, this will take some work. On more than one occasion, I have assumed the worst of people and gotten angry only to learn later that the other party did not intend what I assumed they intended. I have thought that people were insulting me, only to find that I misunderstood some colloquial phrase. I have thought that people were angry, when they were actually in pain or frustrated by an event that had nothing to do with me.
Rather than assume that someone intends to harm me, I have learned to first assume that I misunderstood. I assume that they meant something other than what I heard, or that they are struggling to communicate their thoughts and feelings. By assuming the positive, I have found that I feel less stress, less frustration, and less irritation with others. Because I feel less stress, I am better able to work to understand their perspective without feeling compelled to force my perspective on them.
I am not perfect at applying this principle. Just read through my blog, and you will find examples of times when I did not pull this off very well. In fact, it is in the times that I failed to do this that I learned the lesson again.
When we assume positive intent, we have greater control over our emotional response, and we retain the power to control what we can control – ourselves.
In looking over the post before publishing it, I notice that it begs the question: “What if people really do mean you harm?” I acknowledge that some people really do have ill intent, and that opens a whole different sort of discussion. I find that starting with the presumption of positive intent, I am more often right about them than I am wrong. As a result, I have fewer real conflicts with people, and the ones I do have get resolved much more quickly. It is when I assume negative intent that I have more problems.
Thought for Thursday: Assume positive intent until they prove otherwise.