In an article about Indra Nooyi (Chairman and CEO of Pepsi), she spoke about the best advice she ever got, which was to “assume positive intent.” It was very inspiring to say the least. Here’s what she had to say:
“When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.'”
How Jumping To Conclusions Can Hurt
Essentially, this advice is about not jumping to conclusions based on high emotions. We’ve all done it before by responding quickly to people with negative thoughts or actions. But one negative will eventually get the other to be negative, and you don’t want two negatives fighting each other.
When you think negatively right away, you assume that the person confronting you is being malicious or diabolical. If you think and respond negatively based on that assumption, you are just going to fuel the negative fire. Diffuse those thoughts and try to keep a level head until you fully grasp the picture. Most of the time, people just don’t wake up and say they are going to be vicious to you just because. There is a reason why this person is confronting you this way and it would be wise to find out why before you go in guns blazing.
Learning From Pop Culture
A good example of this is Angelo Sosa from “Top Chef.” He’s known for being hands on with his competitors’ food and providing suspicious advice to his competition. Granted, this is a competition, but already people assume right away that he is not to be trusted and that he is trying to sabotage the competition by making himself look good.
Well, season-mate Tiffany Derry witnessed this firsthand on Season 7, but when she came back with Angelo in “Top Chef All Stars,” she had a different outlook on the situation. She said that after reviewing the situations from last season, she came to conclusion that Angelo is not being malicious when he helps and that ultimately, the chefs’ food are their responsibility and nobody else’s.
Learning From Real Life
Personally, I actually ran across this situation recently at my current company. My boss came down on me hard about my manager duties. I had just returned from a vacation and the duties she was referring to happened right after I left for my vacation.
My first gut reaction was to think that my boss has it out to get me and that she never liked me. All those defensive emotions were being played out in my head and as a result, I took the wrong road by being confrontational. I harshly responded that my actions were not to be in question and brought up reasons why I am so good at my job, overlooking the specific events that she brought up.
Eventually, after my knee-jerk reaction, I did calm down and accepted my mistake. I left feeling demoralized becauseI couldn’t justify being right in the conversation. It wasn’t until I got home and read Indra’s article that I realized that maybe my boss wasn’t being malicious. She was just doing her job by addressing a problem that had come up.
I felt so bad afterwards when I realized that it was indeed innocent feedback from her. I should have focused more on how to learn from my mistakes rather than getting defensive at the first sign of criticism.
Assuming positive intent doesn’t always come easily. But if you make the effort, it can pay off by strengthening your relationships with coworkers, friends and family.