Why you should assume positive intent

Students coming to study in London for the new university term will quickly realize that in the capital you generally do not assume positive intent. In fact, Not Assuming Positive Intent is the default.

  • You assume that other commuters will fight you for the last tube seat.
  • You assume that your pockets will get picked in a crowd.
  • You assume that your council will make a large proportion of its money from unfair traffic fines.
  • You assume that foxes will rip open your bin bags and spread your rubbish all over the streets.

London natives are hardened by poor public transport, cuts to local authority spending and the expectation of negotiating crowds of tourists watching street entertainers (Edinburgh also suffers from this).

However, in the office, project managers should assume positive intent. People do not come into work to do a bad job. Things go wrong on projects – we know that. But generally this is because the processes fell down, communications failed or the responsibilities were not clear. It is not because people deliberately do stupid things in order to trip you up.

Positive intent means assuming that project team members are genuinely interested in doing a good job. People try to do the right thing within the confines of organizational culture and process. They might not be very good at their job, but that is a different issue.

On a project, assuming positive intent means treating people as adults. Don’t follow up because you think they won’t do the tasks that you have given them. Follow-up because you want an update. Don’t work on the basis that people will do the minimum amount possible therefore you have to be on their backs all the time. Assume they will do their job to the best of their abilities.

Assuming positive intent has helped me create project teams with a mature outlook to their work. How far has assuming positive intent worked on your organizations? Let us know in the comments.

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