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The power of positive assumptions

Sometimes coaching throws up a simple idea which is transformative.

There is a central tenant of NLP work which states that: “Everyone is doing the best they can with the resources available to them.” Brene Brown’s work on leadership also champions this principle, which she describes as the “assumption of positive intent.”

Both mean, quite simply, choosing to believe that the people around us are well-intentioned and doing the best they can.

It sounds obvious, but we can often lose sight of it.

Let’s start with work. How could this approach benefit our leadership, influence and negotiation?

It may mean we need to think differently about people who make our lives difficult. Maybe they need more support or training. Maybe they don't have the resources they need to deliver what we want. Maybe they've seen something we haven't. Maybe they have other pressures we just don't know about (until we ask).

If we look through this lens then we need to let go of frustration, anger and blame.

It means forcing ourselves to focus on identifying and fixing a problem rather than a person. Rather than conflict, it drives compromise and collaboration.

There are also implications outside the workplace. Just think what a difference it could make to our broader lives if we use this approach to engage with those around us.

In our personal relationships, it’s easy to forget that others are doing their best. Maybe your friend hasn’t been in touch lately, but maybe that’s because she is overwhelmed, rather than because she’s selfish.

Maybe people who disagree with us politically aren’t inherently evil or wrong – maybe they just have different ideas about how to solve society’s problems. Maybe they have read or listened to different things. Maybe by engaging with each other’s perspectives we could focus on what we share.

And finally, if you accept that you, too, are doing the best you can with good intentions, then it might be easier to be kind to yourself.

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