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How to Assume Positive Intent When Someone's Let You Down Previously?

As a Kind Leader at work, at home and in the community, one of the hardest things to do is to "assume positive intent", the first Key Kind Leader Behavior, ESPECIALLY when someone has let you down in past.

But it's an unbelievably important behavior to practice, because people aren't perfect, and they are going to let you down!

I was giving a keynote at an online Summit the other day, and a participant had a great question. They asked how Kind Leaders respond when faced with a team member who has let them down in past, and that they have to continue to work with...and give another assignment to.

The reason I think that this is such a great question is that it's a situation that happens frequently at work at home and in the community.

  • At work, team members don't always complete the work they are asked to do in a quality way, and sometimes don't achieve the results that are required.

  • At home, your children, partner/spouse and extended family don't always give you the help we wish they would, and act in ways that you would like them to.

  • In the community, neighbors don't always make decisions that you agree with, and friends can inadvertently (or on purpose) act in ways that hurt your feelings.

When any of those things happen, trust is broken.

In The Kind Leader, trust is defined as the belief that one person has the others' best interests at heart at all times. (p. 44) When someone "lets someone else down" and breaks their trust, "assuming positive intent" in the future is extremely hard, because now there is the fear that the person will let you down again.

Especially if there was a negative impact on the person being let down, like a reprimand from their leader, or embarrassment or even a perceived possible negative career impact (like the fear that a much yearned for promotion may not take place), assuming positive intent in future becomes much more difficult.

As Kind Leaders, though, it is important for you to continue practicing assuming positive intent because not only do you influence how others act, react, speak and think, your actions and words create the culture of your organization. Knowing that no one is perfect, and that people will make mistakes and let others down, how you react in the situation will be the model for how others throughout your organization do.

So, here are some things that you can do to practice assuming positive intent when someone has let you down:

  1. Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down! When people let you down, it's easy for your emotions to override your intellect and logic. And when you are angry, frustrated and sad, it's harder to assume positive intent.

  2. Remind yourself that most people want to be successful and do what they say they are going to do...and that when they aren't there is a reason. Although that reason may not be visible to you, there is a reason that makes sense to the person.

  3. Make a list of all the possible reasons that might have led someone to let you down. (They don't know how to do what you asked, they were afraid to do it for some reason, they have a sick relative they need to take care of, they are having a mental health challenge.)

  4. Remind yourself that the person's actions are ultimately a reflection on them...not you, Even though it might feel like it's a reflection on you at the time.

  5. Schedule time and then "go and see" them and explain how you are feeling. Tell them that you are worried that you will be let down again, and ask them what you can do together to give them the help they need. Listen...with open eyes, open ears, open mind and an open heart.

None of these things are easy to do. That's why Kind Leaders are strong leaders!

And they all require a lot of practice.

But that is okay. Because the more you practice, the easier it will get to practice, and the more trust you will create between yourself and the other person, and within your organization. And that is what Kind Leadership is all about!

Please give these five steps a try, at work, at home and in the community, and let me know what happens! I can't wait to hear!


For more information on assuming positive intent, and creating trust, please see Chapters 2, 4, 6 and 8 of The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust and Leading with Kindness.

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