Assuming Positive Intent
Assuming positive intent is one of my first go-to tools after I’ve breathed through the “90 seconds”. The decision to assume positive intent lays the foundation for making sure that everyone feels safe and heard. It also gives us the best chance to find solutions.
The idea involves believing that everyone is doing the best they can right now. It’s understanding that they want to be a part of a solution and that they aren’t attempting to stop my needs from being met. I realize that they are just trying to meet a need. It’s not about me but I can have a role in helping them and moving toward resolution of our conflict.
There are times when I’m faced with someone who is angry and lashing out. Often the first, natural, response is to defend and protect but instead we can choose to really *see* that person, to meet them with acceptance. Then we can understand that they are trying to meet a need and not trying to hurt. That allows me to hear what they have to say. If I’m busy defending, then I can’t hear. This goes for other adults, spouses, kids, really any situation.
Recently, a neighbor sent me a threatening email. I’m on our neighborhood HOA board and there had been a contentious change of direction in the recent past. The threats centered on our chickens. Our chickens are beloved pets who we have hand raised either from egg or as day old chicks. The email immediately put me on the defensive. My first reaction was, “You don’t know who you’re messing with!” It took some deep breaths and time on my part but I was able to reign in that defensive and attacking energy and calm down. I assumed positive intent. I realized that while it *felt* and even sounded like it was about me, it wasn’t.
I thought about his situation. He was a stay at home dad with 4 kids, one a brand new baby. They had bought their house at the height of the market and since then we had seen our home prices drop significantly. Perhaps he felt out of control. Often when we feel out of control we try to control others. I tried to find a place in my heart to accept him where he was. I turned to a tool shared on the Consensual Living yahoo list.
The Buddhist idea of Metta Mediation was shared. The poster talked about using this idea to meditate and invite the person with whom you are in conflict, into a room in your mind. When they are there, embrace them with love, kindness and acceptance. So, I did. I visualized a room with this man and I welcomed him, gave him some imaginary cookies and just felt nothing but compassion and acceptance. My energy about the situation *completely* changed! I no longer felt anxiety or stress when I thought of him or the situation. I knew he was doing the best he could in that moment and that whatever came of the situation, all was well.
I find with my children it is a lot easier to assume positive intent. We have a shared history of unconditional love. There are still times I have to remind myself to assume positive intent. We are all doing the best we can. We are all trying to meet our needs and live our best life. When I start there, solutions start to flow and connections are made or strengthened.