Assume good intent

There’s a phrase that I’ve been using more and more with startups that I’m working with closely. That phrase is “assume good intent.”  I first heard this phrase in my office at Techstars and i’ve found it useful, so I wanted to share it.

In any team or customer dynamic, if you start off assuming good intent, life is easier and good stuff happens. On the other hand, if you assume bad intent, life is hard.

I’ll give you an example to illustrate. Let’s say that you receive an email from a customer that says “The new feature in your software sucks. It’s costing me a ton of wasted time and energy.” Your initial reaction to this email likely represents your default mode and the intent you assume. When we assume bad intent, it sounds like this customer is trying to tear us down, to criticize us, or possibly even to harm me or my company for having produced this software. But if you assume good intent, you see nothing but opportunity. The customer who sent this email is just trying to help!

In the example above, when the customer said your software “sucks” it might be triggering. It might sound like wasted “time and energy” is a harsh criticism. But the customer might not have meant it that way. They might be talking to you like a friend would, informally. Their goal might simply be to call attention to the issue so that your company doesn’t suffer from other complaints. They might just have the same goals as you – great software that everyone loves so that you and they can win together.

Try checking your assumptions about intent next time you have an interaction that sets you off emotionally. In assuming good intent, you’ll find new opportunities. Has this happened to you? What’s your favorite example?


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8 responses to “Assume good intent

  1. You’re right David. We all have an “auto pilot” way of responding to criticism and for most of us its not a productive, its defensive. Its pretty tough to slow down and actually think instead of simply reacting. For me- assuming the best sets a positive internal dialogue where I’m able to hear the truth and leave the rest.

  2. Thank you for the reminder. One of my favorite Tom Robbins’ quotes: “One has not only an ability to perceive the world but an ability to alter one’s perception of it; more simply, one can change things by the manner in which one looks at them.”

  3. Hey there… very nice… what is more, how about FORGiVE bad intent? (not to mention run-of-the-mill obnoxocity and other human unpleasantness 🙂

  4. Nice and short post to stimulate thinking. Being in less of a hurry to fire of a response helps give you the clarity of mind to consider “Assume Good Intention.”

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