As in the marriage situation, our relationships at work are sometimes corrupted by negative assumptions that snowball over time. A colleague speaks out against our idea at a meeting, and we think, He's trying to show off in front of the boss. If this happens another time or two, we might consider him a "brown-noser," that label that will become self-sustaining, as in the marriage situation.
To interrupt this cycle, some organization leaders urge their employees to "assume positive intent," that is, to imagine that the behavior or words of your colleagues are motivated by good intentions, even when their actions seem objectionable at first glance. This "filter" can be extremely powerful. Indra Nooyi, the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, cited it to Fortune as the best advice she even received. (She learned it from her father.)
She said, "When you assume negative intent, you're angry. if you take away that anger and assume positive intent you will be amazed... 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.'"
A blogger names Rochelle Arnold-Simmons uses the "assume positive intent" with her husband: "When your husband does something and you immediately go to a negative place, ask yourself, 'What are other possibilities that may be more positive than what you are thinking?' Assume he is trying to help, assume he does not need to be reminded, assume it is not his fault. I try to ask the question, 'What's another possibility?'"In case you were wondering, the book is great, as are their others, Switch and Made to Stick.