Assuming the Best in People Leads to Win-Win Situations

by Claudia Beck, CPA, PCC

Assuming the best in people, also known as a positive or optimistic outlook in human interactions, has been the subject of various studies and research in the fields of psychology, sociology, and management.  When we look for positive intent, we give people the benefit of the doubt and we give ourselves the chance to learn the details of the situation.

We all make mistakes. However, we hold a double standard – we judge other people’s mistakes differently than we judge our own. When we make mistakes, we often blame the circumstances of the situation rather than take responsibility for the mistake. When other people make mistakes, we tend to over-emphasize the other person’s role in that mistake – we very quickly blame them. This double standard is very well documented in scientific research and is called the Fundamental Attribution Error.

Imagine this scenario: An employee named Charly didn’t deliver his sales target for the past three months, while he had a stable and consistent positive track record over the past few years.  In scenario 1, the manager takes an approach focused on performance metrics and outcomes. The manager tells Charly that if his performance doesn’t improve, he will be let go.  In scenario 2 the manager takes a more empathetic approach, focusing on understanding Charly’s personal challenges and assumes positive intent.

Scenario 1: Manager Issues a Warning: In this scenario, the manager takes an approach focused on performance metrics and outcomes. The manager tells Charly that if his performance doesn’t improve, he will be let go.

Potential Outcomes:

  1. Immediate Impact on Charly: Charly may feel stressed, pressured, or even demotivated by the threat of job loss. This could further affect his performance negatively.
  2. Lack of Understanding: Charly’s manager might not gain insight into the underlying reasons for Charly’s performance decline. The manager may miss the opportunity to address potential issues that could be resolved.
  3. Employee Morale: This approach could negatively impact the morale of other employees who witness Charly’s situation. It may create a culture of fear and insecurity within the team.
  4. Legal and Ethical Concerns: Depending on labor laws and company policies, this approach could raise legal and ethical concerns, especially if Charly is facing personal challenges.

Scenario 2: Manager Shows Empathy and Inquires About Personal Challenges: In this scenario, the manager takes a more empathetic approach, focusing on understanding Charly’s personal challenges.

Potential Outcomes:

  1. Open Communication: Charly may feel valued and understood, which can lead to more open communication about his personal challenges.
  2. Resolution of Issues: By discussing his personal challenges, Charly and his manager may identify potential solutions or accommodations that could help him overcome the difficulties he’s facing.
  3. Positive Work Environment: This approach can contribute to a positive work environment, where employees feel supported and that their well-being is a priority.
  4. Long-Term Performance Improvement: By addressing the root causes of Charly’s performance decline, there is a better chance for sustained, long-term improvement.
  5. Legal and Ethical Compliance: This approach aligns with ethical and legal obligations, ensuring that employees are not unfairly treated when facing personal challenges.

In both scenarios, the goal is to address Charly’s performance issues, but the second scenario is more likely to lead to a holistic understanding of the situation, potentially resulting in a more effective and compassionate resolution. The first scenario, while focusing on performance metrics, may miss the opportunity to address underlying problems and could create a negative work environment.

Assuming the best in people, or having a positive and optimistic approach to interactions and relationships in the workplace, can indeed have a profound impact on employee performance. Here’s how it can influence performance:

  1. Trust and Rapport Building: When leaders, colleagues, and supervisors assume the best in their interactions, it fosters trust and builds rapport. This trust forms the foundation of effective working relationships, creating an environment where employees feel supported and respected.
  2. Positive Work Culture: A workplace culture that assumes the best in people is generally more positive, inclusive, and supportive. Employees are more likely to feel valued and motivated in such an environment, leading to higher performance.
  3. Motivation: When employees sense that their ideas and contributions are valued and that their intentions are trusted, they are more motivated to excel in their roles. Feeling appreciated and respected can be a powerful driver of performance.
  4. Open Communication: An assumption of the best encourages open and constructive communication. Employees are more likely to voice their concerns, offer suggestions, and engage in problem-solving when they believe their perspectives are welcomed and respected.
  5. Reduced Conflicts: A positive approach can help mitigate conflicts and misunderstandings. When individuals assume positive intentions, they are less likely to jump to negative conclusions, reducing workplace tensions that can negatively impact performance.
  6. Team Collaboration: Assuming the best promotes collaboration within teams. When team members trust and respect each other, they are more likely to work cohesively and effectively, which enhances overall team and individual performance.
  7. Innovation and Risk-Taking: A culture of trust and assuming the best encourages employees to take calculated risks and explore innovative ideas. This can lead to creative problem-solving and improved performance.
  8. Job Satisfaction: Employees who feel valued and respected in the workplace are generally more satisfied with their jobs. Higher job satisfaction is linked to increased motivation and better performance.
  9. Lower Turnover: A positive, trusting workplace culture reduces turnover rates. Employees are more likely to stay with an organization where they feel valued, leading to a more experienced and stable workforce.
  10. Customer and Client Relations: Employees who assume the best in their interactions are more likely to deliver better customer service and client relations. This positively impacts the organization’s reputation and customer satisfaction.

In summary, assuming the best in people creates a more positive and trusting work environment. It fosters a more supportive and collaborative environment that encourages personal growth and improved performance. This, in turn, can enhance motivation, communication, collaboration, job satisfaction, and overall performance. Employees are more likely to excel in their roles when they feel respected and trusted, as it leads to higher morale, productivity, and job satisfaction. By embracing this approach, organizations can promote the well-being of their employees while achieving their performance goals.

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To learn more about this approach and executive coaching, reach out to Claudia for a consultation.