Always Assuming Positive Intent is a practice that takes a lot of practice.
And it is the first of the three Think Kindly Key Behaviors. It's a practice that Kind Leaders constantly need to practice, because it's easy to slip into assuming the worst!
It was a snowy day here yesterday, and a client, who normally is very punctual about sending me a daily report first thing in the morning, was late. Because their behavior was out of the ordinary, I was worried and reached out by text. "I didn't get the report this morning. Are you okay? "I'm sorry," my client replied. "I went out to shovel my driveway, and noticed that my elderly neighbor's walk and driveway needed shoveling too. I started with theirs, and then did mine. The snow was so heavy it took me much longer than expected and I didn't realize I was late with the report until you texted."
Perhaps, as a leader, this has happened to you. You're expecting something from a team member, and it's late...or it's not done in the way you expected...or not done at all. When that happens, what are the first thoughts that come to your mind? Are they positive, like "I wonder if they are okay?" or are they negative, "I really need that report for the meeting I'm in this morning. How could they let me down like this?"
Chances are, even if your team member is normally punctual, does great work and has been with you for a long time, the first thing that came into your mind was something negative. And probably something self-focused. That's because people are hard-wired for "negativity bias" and we are used to putting ourselves, and our "ends"(what we need to accomplish), first.
Overcoming that internal tendency to focus on the negative, and also to focus on what the negative effect on yourself may be, is a constant struggle for most people and leaders. That's why practicing Always Assuming Positive Intent is so important. Leaders who practice this regularly:
Will be less likely to point the finger of fear and shame and blame their team members unnecessarily
Are more likely to ask their team members to explain how and why something went wrong so that they can gain a deeper understanding
Will have happier and more trusting team members...and be happier themselves
Model kind behaviors that create a kinder culture
So, next time a team member doesn't live up to your expectations or do something when you think they should, take a moment to stop, notice your thoughts and then work on Always Assuming Positive Intent and chancing negative thoughts to kind ones.
No leader is a mind reader, and for all you know, the team member you were blaming in your head for being late because of a negative reason was simply doing an act of kindness, like shoveling the snow for an elderly neighbor, for someone else!
You can learn more about the Three Think Kind Behaviors, and find lots of ways to practice them, in Chapter 4 of The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust and Leading with Kindness!