How To Hold People Accountable and Assume Positive Intentions

Posted on March 27, 2024 by Nate Regier / 0 comments
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As a leader, how do you respond when people behave in unexpected or inappropriate ways?

Have you ever gotten yourself into a bind because you made a false assumption about a person’s intentions?

Have you ever jumped to a conclusion about a person’s character and were met with a defensive response?

How do you hold someone accountable for behavior without making things worse?

Are You On A Treasure Hunt or a Scavenger Hunt?

My friend, Gloria Cotton, has this to say: “Are you on a treasure hunt or a scavenger hunt?” Scavenger hunters expect to find what’s wrong and use it as leverage. Treasure hunters expect to find treasure and affirm it. When we assume negative intentions, our behavior seeks to justify and prove our assumptions. When we assume positive intentions, we look for what’s best, real, and true in the other person. We make an effort to take their perspective, put ourselves in their shoes, and test our assumptions before acting on them. This element of curiosity is a foundational component of compassionate leadership.

Assuming positive intentions is aligned with the Value switch of the Compassion Mindset. When our Value switch is turned on we treat people as innately valuable and separate the person from the behavior. It is also aligned with the Capability switch because we activate curiosity, seeking first to understand rather than to be understood.

Assuming positive intentions doesn’t mean we act blindly or never seek the truth. It means we check assumptions before acting on them. Have you ever felt defensive or angry about something someone said or did? Did you make assumptions about their intent?

Maybe you have a history with them. Maybe they’ve done things like this before. Maybe your own insecurities influenced your assumptions. When you act on assumptions, you turn off your value switch for both of you. You don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, and you place yourself into a corner without an opportunity to get out.

How to Hold People Accountable and Assume Positive Intentions

Here’s a four-step template for assuming positive intentions and checking assumptions, but not compromising accountability, especially when you are having a negative response to someone’s behavior:

  1. Identify the behavior to which you are reacting.
  2. Identify the story you are telling yourself. What assumptions or interpretations are you making?
  3. Share your story with the other person.
  4. Ask whether your story is accurate.

Here are some examples of what this looks like:

  • “I felt angry when I heard you tell my boss about our conversation. The story I told myself is that you were trying to expose me to make you look better. Was this your intention?”
  • “I am so embarrassed. When I arrived late and everyone had already started, the story I told myself was that I’m not needed here. Is that true?”
  • “I felt unimportant when you got on your phone while I was talking. The story I told myself is that you aren’t that interested in what I have to say. Is this accurate?”
  • “I felt angry when I read the comment you posted on my blog. The story I told myself was that you were trying to prove a point and belittle the last person who commented. Was that your intention?”

Sometimes we jump to conclusions about our value that need to be checked in order to keep our Vaue switch on. If we don’t check the validity of our own stories, we can easily fall deeper into a less-than or more-than identity.

The benefit of checking assumptions is that you will usually find the truth and can move forward from there while minimizing destructive behaviors. The challenge is that you might find out you were wrong. Many of us are invested in believing false narratives so we can keep our switches off about ourselves or others. That’s not compassion.

When we assume positive intentions and check assumptions, we take ownership of our value and ask others to do the same. These aren’t easy conversations to have, but they usually reveal opportunities to talk about what behaviors we could choose instead that would affirm our value and address the situation. This brings people closer, increases trust, and fosters psychological safety.

Three Steps for Giving Feedback With A Compassion Mindset

Compassionate Accountability® means building closer relationships while addressing behavior; you don’t have to compromise one for the other. Next time you want to hold someone accountable, first hold yourself accountable for assuming positive intentions and checking assumptions. Imagine what you could find.

Compassionate Accountability is not an oxymoron. Learn more in this Forbes article.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, 2024

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