Assume Innocent Intent
Picture this scene: You are rushing out the door from work heading to soccer practice to pick up your young daughter. Your boss catches you and says, “We really need your project report in the morning.”
“Sure,” you say, “it’s all but done. See you tomorrow,” and you keep running to your car.
On the way to soccer practice, you obsess about your boss’s demand that you finish a report that originally wasn’t due for another week. In your mind, your story grows, you fill in more details and become certain this is just an attempt to control you.
People are storytelling machines! An event happens and we fixate on the beginning, middle, and end of the story… whether we have the facts or not. We just want to make sense of what’s going on and tend to attribute motivation to the other person’s actions or statements. We often do this unconsciously.
One reason we fill in the blanks of what is happening is to try and make sense of ambiguous situations. If things are certain in our minds, we feel more comfortable about what’s going on. The downside of this trait is that we can make unintended Persecutors, Victims, and Rescuers out of people and situations that simply are not accurate. All three of the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) roles can emerge when we assume we know someone’s intent.
Back to the story: The boss meets you in the coffee room the next morning.
“Good morning. Hey, sorry I didn’t explain last night why I wanted your report a week early. You were rushing out the door and I didn’t want to bother you with a long explanation. Hopefully I didn’t catch you off guard or cause you to worry. Your reports are so well organized, I wanted to share them with others on the team who are asking for more direction prior to that important meeting we are having with the client.”
Wow! You missed lots of valuable information about this situation that could have saved an evening of angst if you had adopted the mantra: assume innocent intent.
Even in the healthiest workplaces and relationships, “stuff happens.” As you go through your day, something unanticipated is going to occur—an email arrives that conveys a confusing or upsetting message; a co-worker, spouse, or friend is late to a meeting or a meal; you hear through the grapevine that someone has said something about you that isn’t true.
If you assume innocent intent, you can create an opening for connecting, at least until there is more information. It also supports you to calm down, listen, and learn more about what is going on. It is not necessary to assume positive intent. While that might be useful, assuming innocent intent allows for a neutral space to simply be with what is happening when a situation is unclear.
By seeing and relating to others as Co-Creators, when stuff happens (and it will), it is important to assume that there is innocent intent behind their statements and actions and to check it out.
Here are a couple of tips for checking out the intention of another when stuff happens:
- If you feel triggered and are on the brink of going reactive, give yourself time to pause and remind yourself of your new mantra: assume innocent intent.
- Respond from the Coach role in TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic). For example, you might directly ask “What is your intent? What do you really want in this situation? It would be helpful for me to know where you are coming from.”
Give yourself and others a break when stuff happens. By assuming innocent intent, you will cultivate the Creator in you while nourishing the Creator in others to shine forth.