Aleta Maxwell

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

As a leader, your day is filled with communication.

Maybe you are constantly pivoting and multi-tasking, which leaves little room for longer conversations.
I do suggest scheduling in time for longer conversations, but that's for another blog post ;-)

There's many moments throughout your workday that you might have brief communication with others that seem off but it's just not the right time or place to probe further. 

Do any of these experiences seem familiar?

  • You receive an email from someone and it seems short or cold in tone. 
  • You pass by someone and say hello and they barely respond. 
  • A co-worker doesn't show up for a team project meeting.
  • A team member goes from bubbly to brooding.
  • Your boss invites a co-worker to lunch but hasn't ever invited you.
  • A team member shows up late and doesn't apologize.

Usually when this happens, we have three choices:  

  1. We can get curious in the moment and ask a question
  2. We can give the benefit of the doubt and move on unless a pattern starts happening (which we could then ask a question about)
  3. We can carry a worry, resentment, or concern about it because of an assumption we have made

These moments happen all the time to everyone. We tend to assume there's an issue and it has something to do with us.  It's human nature to think everything is about us, when very rarely it actually is.

These moments will keep happening. What we do in these moments is what makes a huge difference!  

When something feels off, get curious and ask. Recalling what was stated for Tip #2, starting the practice of getting curious and asking as soon as we feel confused or that something is off will save you so much time and conflict. You can start with "I noticed..." or "I am wondering..." and give space for them to explain their reasons behind the action.  This will be a game-changer in your communication with your team.  

If you feel that you can't question in the moment (not the right time/busy, don't feel comfortable asking), then give the benefit of the doubt. Assume that the attitude isn't about you, but about something else. Assume they didn't mean to be rude, but maybe are struggling with something or having a bad day. This is usually the truth of the situation, and if you are wrong, then a pattern of behavior will start to appear and you can get curious if it does.    

Allowing our brains to create a story that places us at the center doesn't serve us. Not only is it not helpful but can cause us to act against our self-interests. 

It will:
  • sabotage our own confidence
  • lead us to think the worst of our team or co-workers
  • create a culture of suspicion instead of encouragement.

The practice of retraining our mind to give the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming it is about us takes mindfulness and intentionality, but will increase your confidence as a leader greatly when mastered. 

I believe one of the most important skills we can intentionally develop is the ability to stop our own narrative for the reasons behind these moments.

Forming this new habit will completely shift the culture of your team and company.

You can then focus on patterns of behavior and seek to understand and resolve those instead of getting caught up in the singular momentary offenses.

If you aren't going to get curious, then give the benefit of the doubt. Not only for the other person's sake, but for your own sanity.    

Don’t get me wrong…I'm always going to be an advocate for getting curious and truly finding out what is going on. But, if that's not possible or you are not comfortable with that, then do yourself a favor and give the benefit of the doubt!   
Aleta Maxwell

I've spent years studying and developing communication skills specifically for leadership and the workplace. Conflict prevention and resolution is fundamental in leadership development and I coach leaders to develop key skills and tools to help their team excel.

If you'd like to develop these skills, there's several ways I can help!

> Read my book "Uplifting Leaders! How to have difficult conversations that motivate and inspire". This is a great first step as this book is packed with real life examples from my years of experience along with key tips and tricks to navigating difficult conversations in the workplace.

> Schedule some one-on-one coaching with me to develop a specific plan for you to reach your maximum potential.

> Bring me into your team to assist with team communication strategies. This looks like group coaching with individual coaching as needed. 

> Sign up for one of my online development courses. These courses are designed for employees and leaders to develop key skills at their own pace.