Are You All on the Same Page?
“We judge ourselves by our intentions. We judge others by their actions.” – S. M.R. Covey
This is one of those principles that was a total Aha! Moment for me. I can tell you where I was when I read it – in my office in Harvard Square – reading the book “Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey. I was immediately convicted that this was 100% true in my life. Think about that statement. All we can see when someone acts or reacts, is the observable act or the reaction. We have no idea what is going on in their head. Unless we ask the person, we have no idea if it was an intentional action or an unintentional act. If it was an intentional act, we don’t know if it was well-intentioned or not. Most of the time, we make assumptions about someone’s intentions based on their actions.
I must admit the first example that came to mind for me was driving in my car… and, I have become (for the most part) a more kind, patient driver because of this revelation. Before I read that statement, every time someone cut me off, pulled in front of me changing lanes, or generally irritated me, I assumed they were a terrible driver, probably a terrible person, or both. What a stupid assumption on my part. Of course, there are terrible drivers and there are terrible people. But, terrible people with bad intentions are the exception not the rule. (Unfortunately, the media and social media give so much more air-time to the terrible people and terrible happenings in the world, that is tough to believe sometimes.)
When I apply that principle at work, working with people, it makes me first assume good intentions on the part of the other person. At the very least, I will first assume that an offensive act or action was not intended to be offensive. In my experience, this is true 90% of the time. Most disagreements stem from different styles, different approaches, and sometimes unconscious bias. When we are willing to confront and address the situation, in a non-judgmental way, the majority of the ‘offenders’ apologize and make the change.
When I work with teams, this is one of the first foundational team topics. We work through a process to help all team members answer the following questions:
- Are we confident that everyone in the room is working toward the same goal?
- Are we confident that everyone in the room intends to do their best work to achieve the goal?
- Do we believe that we will all be under pressure at different points throughout the project and, when we are under pressure, we are much more likely to ‘lose our cool’, be abrasive or short in our responses?
- If the answer to any of these questions is NO, we have more work to do before we can move forward.
- But if the answer to every one of these questions is YES, can we commit to giving each other the benefit of the doubt and assume good intentions?
I see the lightbulbs go on in team meetings just like the lightbulb went on for me years ago when I read that quote for the first time. It makes SUCH a difference in how teams function, how team members treat each other, and how teammates respond to intermittent poor behavior in the workplace. The team becomes much more forgiving and instead of judging, might even offer support to the offending party.
Before anyone thinks I am ‘too soft’ and am okay with a disrespectful workplace – nothing could be farther from the truth.
Agreeing to give our teammates the benefit of the doubt is not permission to misbehave!
Just because we are willing to delay judgment, doesn’t mean we don’t have to hold each other accountable for disrespectful or unkind ways at work, but it does mean we will not judge and label our colleague as a ‘terrible teammate’. We will address the challenge after the heat of the moment has passed, and we will be a stronger team when we do.