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I don’t remember where I first heard the phrase, “assume positive intent,” but I do remember when I first understood it.

As children we were taught to distrust. “The government is out to get you,” “The police are corrupt,” “Life is hard,” and “Rich people are evil.” Then the worst lie of all, “You can’t do what you love AND earn a living.”

Somehow all of this ‘advice’ translated into a belief that people in power, or people with money, can’t be trusted.

In the late 1980’s I was fortunate enough to be mentored by the CEO and founder of an educational software company. His values stood in stark contrast to what I had been taught about power and wealth. He wielded great influence, but used his clout to serve. He amassed significant wealth, but wanted nothing more than to give back, while at the same time living an abundant life.

In spite of his graciousness, I never completely trusted his motives because of my twisted belief that people will take advantage of you.

Over time, this belief translated into a general mistrust of everyone, and ironically, a mistrust of my own motives.

As I gained power and increased personal wealth, I surprisingly felt guilty about my success. I remember wondering if I was taking advantage of others to get ahead. What’s worse, I didn’t trust my own intuition and made career choices that steered me away from following my passions.

When I started my first business in 2001 I was constantly worried about who would steal my ideas, or who would take advantage of our company.  As a result of that ingrained mistrust, we attracted people that indeed did take advantage of us.

In the spring of 2008 all of that changed.

I decided to sell my company and was working with our management team to ensure the transition was as smooth as possible.  My personal coach was providing counsel on how to successfully transition team members to clients to minimize the disruption. Due to the impending economic crash, I knew selling the company was the best option for everyone, although I understood the news would not be welcomed.

As I prepared to make the announcement, I said to my coach, “It doesn’t matter how I say it, my employees are going to be upset. There’s no telling how negative they will be, or what they will do in response to this announcement.”

My coach said plainly, “Assume positive intent.”

“What?”

“Assume positive intent. When you enter any interaction assuming positive intent from the other party, your relationships will improve.”

I was struck by her words, without fully understanding how to apply them.

“Yeah, but people are basically focused only on their own interests, right?  And they can’t yet see the economic crash that’s coming so they won’t know this is in their best interest.”

“It doesn’t matter. If we assume positive intent, the mind will begin to expect only positive outcomes in relationships. If someone still gets upset, hurts you, or takes advantage of you, it usually has nothing to do with your actions.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “People do hurtful things all the time.”

“True, they do,” she explained, “but they don’t mean to. No one really sets out to purposefully hurt us. People are just wrestling with their own issues. So, if you assume positive intent, you’ll find that most people rise to the expectation, and when they don’t, know they are doing the best they can and their reaction has little to do with you. More importantly, when you assume positive intent, you will trust yourself.”

How profound.

Today, ‘ASSUME POSITIVE INTENT’ has found its way into my mind, heart and spirit, and I’ve uncovered some interesting truths.

1)    For the most part, I have attracted people who are whole, healthy and good. They treat me with respect and grace.

2)    I no longer expect people will take advantage of me, and when they do, I assume they are simply trying to protect themselves. I trust they are struggling with their own issues, and doing the best they can, where they are. I assume, no matter what, that they had a positive intent.

And the best part, I am trustworthy.

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