What is it about humans that can make being in a relationship so hard? Is it just communication, or is there something more at play?
We all know that quality relationships are a huge driver of personal satisfaction. When we have fulfilling relationships – in our family, neighborhood, friend groups or work community, we genuinely FEEL happier.
So, if relationships make us happy, how can we improve those relationships to experience more fulfillment and more joy? What is it about humans that can make being in a relationship so hard? Is it just communication, or is there something more at play?
I used to think that in order to have quality relationships, I needed to change the people in my life. That somehow they were the source of dissatisfaction. As I’ve matured spiritually and emotionally, I now realize that isn’t true. My biggest breakthrough in improving the quality of my relationships wasn’t changing the people around me, but instead looking for how I could change.
And from that place of being willing to change ME first, I stumbled upon a powerful principle—Assume Positive Intent. What it means is that no matter what the other person says or does, rather than immediately judging them, I instead assume positive intent. I assume they meant well or were doing their best.
Assuming Positive Intent means always starting from the idea that a person meant well or was doing their best, no matter what they say or do.
As a child you may have been taught to distrust, as I was. The dialogue and events of today’s society is sounding very familiar to what I used to hear from adults in my young life. “The government is out to get you,” “Big business is bad,” “The police are corrupt,” “Life is hard,” and “Rich people are evil.”
Over the last decade societal tensions have grown, and the divide has been fueled by salty politics, changing culture and the hyper-focused media. This has translated into a belief that people who are different from us, or people in power, or people with money, or people who believe something different… can’t be trusted.
Mistrust Causes Misguidance
In the late 1980’s I was fortunate enough to be mentored by the CEO and founder of an educational software company. His values stood in stark contrast to what I had been taught about power and wealth. He wielded great influence, but used his clout to serve. He amassed significant wealth, but wanted nothing more than to give back, while at the same time living an abundant life.
In spite of his graciousness, I never completely trusted his motives because I had a twisted belief that people will take advantage of you. Over time, these early beliefs translated into a general mistrust of everyone, and ironically, an eventual mistrust of my own motives.
As I gained power and increased personal wealth, I surprisingly felt guilty about that very success. I remember becoming afraid that my success meant that I was bad and would somehow take advantage of others to get ahead. Or that, because I was successful, that somehow people would take advantage of me or hurt me in some way.
When I started my first business in 2001, I was constantly worried about who would steal my ideas, or who would take advantage of our company. As a result of that ingrained mistrust, we attracted people that indeed did take advantage of us.
In the spring of 2008 all of that changed.
I decided to sell my company and worked with our management team to ensure the transition was as smooth as possible. My personal coach was providing counsel on how to successfully transition team members to clients to minimize the disruption. Due to the impending economic crash, I knew selling the company was the best option for everyone, although I understood the news would not be welcomed.
Understanding Positive Intent
As I prepared to make the announcement, I said to my coach, “It doesn’t matter how I say it, my employees are going to be upset. There’s no telling how negative they will be, or what they will do in response to this announcement.”
My coach said plainly, “Assume positive intent.”
“Assume positive intent. When you enter any interaction assuming positive intent from the other party, your relationships will improve.”
I was struck by her words, without fully understanding how to apply them.
“Yeah, but people are basically focused only on their own interests, right? And they can’t yet see the economic crash that’s coming so they won’t know this is in their best interest.”
“It doesn’t matter. If we assume positive intent, the mind will begin to expect only positive outcomes in relationships. If someone still gets upset, hurts you, or takes advantage of you, it usually has nothing to do with your actions.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “People do hurtful things all the time.”
“True, they do,” she explained, “but they don’t mean to. No one really sets out to purposefully hurt us. People are just wrestling with their own issues. So, if you assume positive intent, you’ll find that most people rise to the expectation, and when they don’t, know they are doing the best they can and their reaction has little to do with you. More importantly, when you assume positive intent, you will trust yourself.”
And as expected, there were a few people who at first could not see that I truly had everyone’s best interest at heart. But by assuming positive intent, I was able to trust that their reaction was not about me and was able to compassionately see everyone through the transition before the crash of 2008.
Always Assume Positive Intent
The more I ‘ASSUME POSITIVE INTENT’ the better my relationships have become. With these quality relationships, I am more joyful, more loving and more giving. This has led me to two powerful truths:
1) When I trust
I attract people who are whole, healthy and treat me with the respect and grace I deserve.
2) When people do hurt me
or take advantage of me in some way, rather than being mad, getting even or stewing in my pain: I assume they are simply trying to protect themselves. I trust they are struggling with their own issues, and doing the best they can, where they are. Like Joyce Meyer said, “Hurt people – hurt people.” I assume, no matter what, that they had a positive intent.
To assume positive intent is not always the easiest change one can make, but by doing so it is a recipe for added joy and fulfillment in life. Guide yourself on a more positive life path and improved personal relationships by assuming positive intent!
Known as part Wayne Dyer and part Richard Branson, Terri is a world class business growth expert, serial entrepreneur, and life transformation coach with a purpose to inspire potential. In a career that spans more than 25 years, she has launched, owned, sold, rebranded or turned around more than 40 brands. She has authored several books, and created game-changing models for business and personal success. Terri is the Founder and CEO of Succeed On Purpose Inc.
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