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Assume the Best for Effective Communication

communication leadership
A woman drinking coffee thinking about her negative assumptions and communication

 

By John Millen

Since I’ve been in my business for 20 years, I’ve had a few instances of losing contact with clients or potential clients, or being “ghosted” as we say today. I’ve learned not to take it personally as it generally works out fine.

But about 10 years ago I had a new client, who I’ll call Diana, at a Fortune 500 company. She accepted a proposal for a series of training workshops with leaders around the country that would start within a month. She said she loved my approach and was excited about me working with her leaders. We sent her my contract.

Then Diana ghosted me. Multiple emails and voicemails went unanswered.

It had me assuming the worst: Did she change her mind? Why wouldn’t she let me know? I’ve got to start preparing for these sessions. How can she be so rude!? This is so unprofessional!

This went on for more than a week. Then came a call from Diana’s assistant. She apologized on behalf of her boss. Diana’s mother had died unexpectedly.

I felt so dumb. I was sucked into the vortex of negative assumptions, where we can needlessly feel emotions like disrespect, anger and many others. It’s such a waste of time and energy, but it’s how we are built as human beings.

We have a bias for the negative. I have a CEO client who says that when we look into a dark room we never assume it's filled with angels.

False assumptions

In our daily interactions, it's all too easy to jump to conclusions and assume the worst about others. We misinterpret a text message, an email or a casual comment and allow our minds to conjure up negative narratives.

And these false assumptions can lead to huge misunderstandings and unnecessary conflicts. 

That’s why assuming the best is an act of goodwill that can be a game-changer. Assuming the best is important for effective communication because it is a gesture of trust. When you extend trust to others, it encourages them to reciprocate. 

Trust is the foundation of strong relationships, and by assuming the best in others, you foster a climate of trust that can strengthen your personal and professional connections.

You may also produce a profound ripple effect. When you approach others with goodwill and positive assumptions, they are more likely to pass on this positivity to others as well.

With this in mind, let me share seven practical tips for incorporating this approach into your daily communication:

1. Be mindful of your assumptions 

Start by being aware of your own assumptions. When you catch yourself jumping to conclusions about someone's intentions, pause and reflect. Ask yourself if there might be an alternative, more positive interpretation of the situation.

Think about instances where assuming the best about someone's intentions led to positive outcomes. Reflecting on these experiences can reinforce the benefits of this approach and motivate you to apply it more consistently.

2. Lead by example

As with many aspects of interpersonal relationships, leading by example is highly effective. When you consistently assume the best in others, you set the tone for the kind of communication you want to see in return.

3. Communicate clearly

To avoid misunderstandings, practice clear and concise communication. When you express yourself with clarity, you reduce the chances of others misinterpreting your message, leading to more positive assumptions on their part.

4. Ask for clarification

If you're unsure about someone's intentions or if something seems ambiguous, don't hesitate to ask for clarification. Instead of making assumptions, seek to understand their perspective and motivations.

5. Put yourself in their shoes

Empathy is a powerful tool for assuming the best. Try to see the situation from the other person's point of view. What might be their reasons for acting or speaking as they did? This can help you appreciate their intentions and make positive assumptions.

6. Practice active listening

Active listening involves not only hearing the words but also understanding the emotions and intentions behind them. By actively listening, you're more likely to pick up on cues that suggest positive intentions, even when the words themselves might seem negative.

7. Choose your battles

Not every situation calls for assuming the best. In some cases, people may have negative intentions, and it's crucial to address them. However, by being discerning, you can strike a balance between assuming the best and addressing genuine concerns.

Put this into practice

Assuming the best in your communication with others is a powerful yet simple way to build trust, reduce conflict and foster positive relationships.

Remember that communication is a two-way street, and by extending the courtesy of positive assumptions to others, you'll likely find it reciprocated, leading to more fulfilling and harmonious relationships throughout your life. 

If you’re thinking right now that this approach won’t work, you’re probably making a negative assumption and instead should begin putting these tips to work immediately.

By using these practical tips you can integrate this approach into your daily life, making your interactions more enjoyable and productive. 

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John Millen

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