I have two nieces who are two and four years old. They are fascinating creatures – out of this world. There is so much purity and innocence in how they look at the world; it is incredible.
Here are a couple of examples.
My brother told me how one of them likes to be patted to sleep. And if my brother pats her too fast – she gently takes his hand and shows him the speed she would like.
My mom was pushing the swing on which they both were sitting. And just as a joke, my mom pulled on my niece’s leg. She looked at my mom and patted the seat to point out that its the seat that needed pushing, not the leg.
In both cases, she thinks she has to educate others on the right way of doing things. There are no thoughts like how come they don’t get it right? They pat me in bed every day. I am sure my nieces don’t judge their grandmom on her swinging skills.
Now let’s take a peek at my office life. My direct report says they want to talk to me, and the first thought in my head is – what do they want from me? Or, if somebody still asks me what the deadline is despite repeating it a dozen times, sending emails and chats – the thought does cross my head, ‘Why don’t they just get it?’
One of the themes I am trying to inculcate in my organization’s culture is De-emphasizing hierarchy – which means talking to everybody like they are humans and not a title. It is not that easy. Why? You ask. After two years of being in this position, I may have a clue.
Some of my team have had bad experiences with other managers. One of them was mean and would call out every wrong they did. Another one was bordering on racism, and another one would point out what was wrong without telling them what to do about it. And another had negative feedback behind his back, leaving him scared for life. Another would tell them what to do without asking for their opinion.
With even one of these experiences, people find it hard to let go and trust that future experiences will not be the same. It is hard – I confess. My nieces, thankfully, do not have that baggage of previous experiences. Hence it is easier for them to assume positive intent and come from that space. And we find it difficult because we have experienced not-so-positive intent before.
The question is how to still assume positive intent despite what has happened. First, be aware of it. Before you make any statement or say anything, think about where you are coming from. And yes, this requires you to slow down and observe your thoughts. And once we spend a little bit of time being present – clarity will arise. Basically, let the muddy pool settle down before it becomes clear by itself. That gap between thoughts is hard because our mind does not like it, so it fills it up. If we had that gap even for a bit – we would realize that almost everybody comes with positive intentions. It’s only we bring Me/I/Us in the picture that it becomes muddy.
I am not saying that we assume everybody has a positive intent and keeps doing it that way. All I am saying is maybe for a bit, let’s try to be present and truly listen to what the other party is saying. And then act from clarity and not from murkiness.