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Hello <<First Name>>,

As I write this, the cherry blossoms are in bloom here, in Washington, DC, and spring has begun in earnest.  Spring is the season that invites us to start fresh and begin again.  With the idea of renewal in mind, this issue of Flourish is dedicated to the possibility of "freshening up" our outlook towards others.

In this month's Feature Article. I discuss how assuming the best in others is beneficial to us even when that assumption is wrong.  Then, in the Top Ten, I describe how to begin believing the best of others more often.  I hope you find something beneficial here.

Happy spring,

Barbara

Assuming the Best

We all make assumptions about others’ intentions.  And we all, sometimes, assume the worst. 

Imagine your co-worker receives a promotion with a significant pay raise.  She then invites you to lunch and insists on picking up the check.  Would you view this as an act of generosity, sharing of her good fortune, or, would you assume she is reminding you that she is more successful than you?
The way you answer this question may reveal something about your tendency to assume the best or worst in others.  Would you have answered differently if I had said the co-worker was a man or maybe younger than you are?

We are biologically programmed to protect ourselves and assuming the worst can be a function of that programming.  But, like fight or flight, it is often counterproductive in our modern society.
Let’s look at our co-worker example and consider the different possible outcomes based on her intent and your assumption.

Her intent:  generosity;   Your assumption:  reminding you of her success
Behavior:  You insist on splitting the check, and casually mention that you can pay your own way. 
Result:  She is confused, possibly hurt, and less likely to extend herself to you in the future.  You may feel victorious in the moment without realizing you have unnecessarily sowed ill will with someone who now holds a superior position to you at work.
 
Her intent:  reminding you of her success;   Your assumption:  reminding you of her success
Behavior:  You insist on splitting the check, and casually mention that you can pay your own way.
Result:  She is confident you got the message and leaves the lunch feeling self-satisfied.  You are irritated and possibly well on your way to a combative relationship with someone who now holds a superior positon to you at work.
 
Her intent:  reminding you of her success;   Your assumption:  generosity
Behavior:  You thank her for her generosity and congratulate her on her promotion.
Result:  At a minimum she is confused and thwarted in her attempt to feel superior.  More likely she is feeling open and warmly toward you. You have shifted the tone and direction of the relationship in a positive direction.
 
Her intent:  generosity;  Your assumption:  generosity
Behavior:  You thank her for her generosity and congratulate her on her promotion.
Result:  The relationship has been strengthened and a pattern of positive interaction is being established.  As time goes on this pattern will help buttress the relationship against any challenges that do arise.

As you can see from our example, even if you are right about a person’s ill intentions it often benefits us to assume the best and act on that assumption.  Assuming the worst intentions of others not only creates ill will; it causes us to put up our guards.  When our guards are up, others often approach us defensively or not at all.  As a result, we can damage or cut off communication.  In contrast, assuming the best in others encourages all of us to be open and act more positively.  Consequently, communication is deepened allowing trust, connection and intimacy to grow.  

Assuming the best intentions of others can improve every relationship.  Think of the everyday irritations in your life (your children leaving belongings out, your spouse forgetting your request) and imagine how this situation would change if you assumed the best of their intentions.  Better yet, try it out.  If you need some help getting started, read the Top Ten for some ideas.

As always, I am available to assist you through communication problems or any other life challenges.
 
 

Top Ten Ways to Start Assuming the Best in Others
  1. Ask questions before deciding how to interpret the situation.
  2. Ask someone not involved if they would have read the situation the way you did.
  3. Practice imagining more than one explanation for someone’s actions. We make assumptions to simplify complex situations.Try to think of two or three possible explanations.
  4. Determine which one is the most positive interpretation.
  5. Decide to act as though that is the correct interpretation. Make the choice.
  6. Focus on and express gratitude more often.By calling your attention to the positive assumptions you already make you will be inclined to make those assumptions more frequently, and to give more credence to them.
  7. Choose a form of communication that is less likely to be misinterpreted.From best to worst:in-person, phone, email, text, social media.
  8. Ask yourself if you want a good relationship with this person.If so, choose your response accordingly.
  9. Consider the possibility that unkind gestures or words are the result of other stressors in their life and have nothing to do with you.
  10. Trust yourself to handle the situation if it turns out someone did have negative intentions.

About Barbara Hill
Barbara is a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience helping individuals and couples to achieve happier, more fulfilling lives. She assists clients to better understand themselves, improve their relationships and develop more effective responses to life's problems. Barbara works with adults confronting all types of challenges but is especially skilled at helping survivors of trauma.

Barbara always welcomes the opportunity to work with new clients.
 
Copyright © 2019 Barbara Hill, LCSW-C, All rights reserved.

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