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Assume positive intent

Give other people a chance

Are you often defensive? Do you tend to think the worse of people? Do you feel that they automatically dislike you? This new mindset could be invaluable for you both at university and in the workplace where you have to maintain relationships with colleagues.

How will positive thinking help you?

Assuming positive intent will help you to approach life in a less suspicious way. It will help you to build stronger relationships based on trust, and help you to see the world as a more welcoming place.

Why is it important?

The problem is, whenever you assume negative intent (consciously or not), you can hugely misunderstand someone's intentions and actions. This makes you act acting differently towards them. It can affect and shape your relationship in a way that makes you feel justified in your initial feelings, when it didn't have to be this way.

How to start assuming positive intent

Start giving other people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps someone has let you down. They didn't do something they said they would. They have cancelled plans or haven't replied to a message. Or maybe they have said something that you instantly felt was an attack.

Instead of thinking that their behaviour is because they are a bad person or they want to treat you badly, consider the alternatives:

  • Everyone has bad days
  • Everyone has forgetful moments
  • Everyone gets caught up in their own issues
  • Everyone can say something without thinking
  • Everyone can accidentally overschedule themselves

So the next time that someone does or something that makes you feel hurt or angry, take a step back. Assume that they generally mean well (or have "positive intent") and that when they hurt you, it's out of ignorance, not spitefulness. Talk to them.

Know when to set boundaries

Of course, assuming positive intent does not mean that you should automatically excuse poor or abusive behaviour when it happens. There also comes a point when even if someone does not mean to hurt you, if they repeatedly do, then you need to reset your expectations.

Give yourself the same compassion

Sometimes the most defensive people struggle with feelings of self-hate and low self-worth. You deserve kindness and compassion too. So the next time you want to self-flagellate yourself with insults ("You're so stupid! What a stupid thing to say!") try these instead:

  • "That was stupid. I didn't mean to make them feel that way. I'll give them some time to cool down and then apologise."
  • "That was embarrassing. I should think about what to do next time."

Find ways of being kinder to yourself


"My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, “Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.” So “assume positive intent” has been a huge piece of advice for me."

Indra Nooyi
Chairman and CEO, Pepsico, 'The best advice I ever got'.