In my upcoming book, You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done, I talk about the five things you can do to change your team for the better.  The first of these is to Start with a Positive Assumption.  As team members, we each have a responsibility to overcome the automatic and unconscious filters our brain uses that cause us to react to messages from people we see as hostile. More on that here.

You can imagine that having spent a year immersed in these ideas, that I am very aware of my own assumptions and reactions.  Recently, I had an experience that gave me a dose of my own medicine.  I thought I would share it with you.

For me, the story started with an email I received from a colleague telling me that something I had written had been changed before it had been sent out to our clients.  I reacted immediately. I could feel my pulse quicken and my face flush as my brain reacted to what it perceived as antagonism from my colleague.  Thankfully, I’ve been working on my assumptions for a while, so I recognized the signs and took a deep breath.

In response to the email, I asked a couple of questions.  Unfortunately, the answers I received didn’t make things any easier.  My document had been changed because it had been perceived as self-serving.  Ouch. Again, deep breath…

After a couple more rounds of questions and answers, my teammate and I figured out that it had been a miscommunication. All a simple miscommunication.  It could have been a really ugly incident, but it wasn’t.  It was normal, healthy, productive conflict about what’s best for our customers.

The moral of the story: Sometimes you will feel as though your teammates aren’t starting with a positive assumption.  In those cases, even though it can be gut wrenchingly difficult, you need to stay in a positive frame of mind. Ask questions to understand where they are coming from. Be empathetic about the pressures your teammates are under. Attribute their behavior to positive intentions.

Sometimes your teammates will start with negative assumption.  You can go the “eye for an eye” route and take the ship down or you can choose to start with a positive assumption and keep the genuine dialogue open.  You have to live on the team…you decide.

Further Reading

The Echo Chamber

Trust can’t come at the Expense of Diversity

4 Secrets of Avoiding the Conflict Spiral

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