Why Assuming Positive Intent Builds Trust

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Each time we interact with someone else, we make a split decision: do I trust this person?  If yes, our whole demeanor reflects it: we share information, stand in close proximity, and speak with an upbeat tone. If no, we calculate every word and proceed with a stealth level of caution.

Persons who have mastered the art of assuming positive intent choose to believe in the best intentions of pretty much everyone they meet.  It’s the practice of naturally giving the benefit of the doubt, and it leads to stronger relationships built on trust.

Having the ability to assume the best in others can have a profound effect on the workplace.

How Assuming Positive Intent Builds Trust

Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, says that the best advice she ever got from her father was to always assume positive intent. “My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent,” Nooyi explains. “You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different.”  She describes assuming positive intent as trying to understand what is behind what people say when angry in the heat of the moment.  Often, people are confused or hurt or just do not understand what is being asked of them (Nooyi, Fortune).

Research shows that trust pays off in the form of real dollars in a business environment. If trying to understand others with positive intent, you may do things like 1) keep strong eye contact, 2) calmly ask questions from a place of trust, 3) listen to understand another’s point of view. Ultimately, others will grow to trust you in the same way you show trust in them.

Assuming Positive Intent Makes Workspaces Psychologically Safer

Workplace stress is one of the biggest contributors to employee turnover.  When leadership makes an effort to trust an employee’s intentions, employees feel psychologically safer.  Studies conducted by Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina find that “positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological, social, and physical resources (Laura Delizonna, Harvard Business Review).”

Leaders at Artemis Consultants strive to show positive intent to the people we meet, choose to employ, and even interact with only casually.  Instead of trust having to be earned, trust is assumed.  And we believe people feel this and respond by trusting us to guide their careers.

When faced with a problem in the workplace, leaders should express curiosity and get to the “why” instead of placing blame.  Otherwise, employees may live in fear of receiving harsh criticism when trying something new.

Assuming Positive Means Less Negativity

During life, people are disappointed by other people. Walls are built. It is easy to want to protect ourselves and take a step back before trusting others.  If you can relate to this level of caution, be aware of how you may be coming across.  You could be negatively affecting your business’s culture.  Jim VandeHei of Axios says, “Dig deep enough into rotten relationships or business cultures and you often find bad assumptions in the roots. Telltale signs are suspicion, backbiting or score-settling.”

Assumptions can be rooted in a fear of being outperformed or overlooked.  And behind this fear may be jealousy.

The best way to overcome negative feelings is with good communication about grievances.  Face to face works much better than text or email.  In addition, company leaders should create and model a zero-tolerance policy for gossip.  More than any other one thing, gossip leads to a complete lack of workplace trust.

Next time you interact with someone, try assuming positive intent.  See what giving the benefit of the doubt can do for your professional relationships.

-Written exclusively for Artemis Consultants by Content Writer Mellody Melville

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