13 Nov, 2020

Why Assuming Positive Intent is Important Right Now.

Just like many other businesses around the country, the coronavirus pandemic has seen the Pixel team turn to new ways of working, in order to successfully adapt to what many are calling “the new normal”.

Luckily enough we already had an internal chat system in place and that’s certainly become a hugely important part of our team communications. We’ve embraced Google Meet… and Microsoft Teams… and Zoom… and any other video conferencing tools our clients use. 

Live chat has been implemented on our website, the office phones have been redirected and second screens, keyboards, mice and other equipment have been re-allocated to home offices. As a result, we’ve been able to continue delivering new web projects, digital marketing campaigns and all the other services and support our clients rely on, which is amazing. 

That’s not to say though, that this new way of working isn’t without its challenges. 

For example, all the video conferencing tools and chat platforms in the world just can’t make up for being able to have a face to face conversation. The reason being that super important conversational cues like eye contact, body language and, in written contexts, tone of voice, simply get lost or at best blurred. That’s why I think assuming positive intent is the biggest change team members need to make when working remotely, to ensure successful communication and successful working relationships.

Positive Intent, Pixel Characters
Assuming positive intent is the practice of always starting with the belief that someone means well or was doing their best, regardless of what they actually said or did. It’s about interpreting a person’s motives for their behaviour in the most positive light. The benefits of embracing this way of interacting with other people are really impressive too. It can help build relationships, increase trust, boost productivity and change your own behaviour in a positive way as well. It can even make people feel happier and more joyful and in a lockdown situation, who doesn’t want that?!

It’s particularly useful to assume positive intent when those additional conversational cues are lost or dulled through digital communication platforms as well. I am sure we’ve all experienced it by now; you’re in a Zoom meeting, and someone’s internets running slowly or the camera signal fails and while you can hear what they’re saying, you can’t see their facial expressions or their body language in time with their speech. Are they happy about what’s being discussed? Are they listening? Did they just talk over you on purpose? Do they know they’re interrupting? 

All these questions can arise as a result of that slow internet connection, and if you don’t assume the best and believe in those positive intentions, it’s easy to start feeling negative emotions like frustration, confusion and even disappointment. 

It’s even more relevant when it comes to written communications like online chats, texts and WhatsApp messages. There’s no tone of voice and no real body language, so when someone said “that’s fine”, did they have attitude? Or is it really fine? Again, always assuming positive intent, makes a huge difference to how that message makes you feel and as a result, how you then respond and if the chain of interactions is positive, then team relationships improve, trust increases and things get done well.

So how can you help your teammates start embracing the practice of assuming positive intent? 

First and foremost, it’s about just forming the habit. Assuming positive intent sounds like it should come naturally, and for our own actions it does, we tend to go into the things we’re doing with a positive intent… when it comes to other people though, most of us tend to be a little less optimistic. We’re a little more guarded, a touch more suspicious and little more questioning. 

To start thinking positively about what other people are saying and doing, it’s important to think before you react and some things to help you do that are as follows:

•    There’s always more than one reason why someone behaves a certain way, so your first assumption may not be the right one, so think about the other reasons that could have motivated them before reacting
•    Most of us usually do things for a reason, so while someone’s behaviour may seem baffling to you, it must have made sense to them – maybe they know something you don’t? Maybe they have other things going on that are also contributing to the situation?

By considering these two points, you should be able to find multiple possible reasons behind someone’s behaviour, so all that’s left to do, is choose the most positive one and assume that’s correct when you respond. 
On top of this, there are few other actions you can take to help people understand your own behaviour and intentions more accurately (and hopefully more positively).

For one thing, don’t under-estimate the power of emojis in online chats. You, like me, may not embrace them readily (I like proper sentences, good English and correct spellings – what can I say, I am an English student at heart), but it’s important to recognise that a well timed “smiley” can make all the difference to how someone interprets what you wrote. 

Don’t forget to explain if you are having connectivity issues in video chats as well. If your internet is slow and you think you might have a time lag that’s causing you to inadvertently speak over people, tell them. By setting people’s expectations in this way, and helping them to understand your behaviour, you are allowing them to rule out several negative assumptions straight away, keeping communications positive.

So, the next time you’re involved in some form of digital communication, remember: positive intentions and well timed emojis can make all the difference!