People watching is one of my favourite pastimes because the world is full of amazing situations, people and places. On this occasion, I was fascinated with the very loud conversation a person was having at a café with a friend.

They were annoyed. In fact, very annoyed because someone at work had let them down. There was a stream of vitriol, and a whole heap of assumptions.

Assumptions about why the person had done what they’d done, how they’d done it, their level of competence (or in this case incompetence), work ethic and much more.

Now, the person may have had very valid reasons for their comments, and venting to a trusted friend can be a useful way to work through the best way to respond.

However, it is also important to step back and question your interpretation of what’s happened and why. To challenge yourself on the lens you are using to view the situation, and where necessary, to change the lens.

When a person does something that makes you unhappy, displeases or upsets you in some way it can be easy to interpret the situation and make snap judgements. Judgements that are based on the assumption that you know why they’ve done what they’ve done, and how they are thinking and feeling.

For example, you may think they’ve failed to do something because they’re lazy; not interested because they’re selfish; late for a meeting because they’re disorganised; or not appreciative of the work you’ve done because they didn’t like it.

In many situations, this judgement can be way off the mark.

Have you ever had a time when you thought that a person’s behaviour was motivated by one thing and it turned out to be something else?

I always remember the time during my corporate career when I was faced with the stark knowledge that a colleague of mine had a negative view of me.

You see, I asked questions – lots of them. They thought my questioning was because I wanted to find fault with their work; whereas my questioning was because I wanted to learn from them. I looked at how they approached problems and it was very different to my thought processes. Being a constant learner, I wanted to know and understand more.

When I found this out, I had to face the reality that they had a very different interpretation of the intent of my actions. The good news is we discussed it, and by facing into it we changed the nature of our working relationship.

So, what would it look like for you if you flipped how you saw someone you either worked with or interacted with socially? What would you need to do to always start from the position that the other person’s intent was good and to give them the benefit of the doubt?

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Seek to understand and question, rather than assume you know
  • Notice what and who you are reacting to and ask yourself why. Ask yourself: If someone else said the same thing (or did the same thing), would I have the same reaction?
  • Change the lens you are using to view the issue and see what alternative ideas you come up with by using a range of different lenses
  • Find a friend, buddy or colleague and ask them to challenge your assumptions and perspectives on the issue, and be open to what you may hear and learn as a result
  • Seek to clarify your understanding of what’s happened, and then where needed, be prepared to step into the difficult conversations to work the situation through

And remember – no one holds the licence on being right.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today!

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and  ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’.  For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact [email protected].