Start with a positive assumption (video transcript)

Your first responsibility as a team member is to start with a positive assumption. When you change the way you look at people, you’ll actually change the way they look at you.

Let me demonstrate. Close your eyes. Come on, close your eyes.

Imagine it’s Tuesday morning at about 10:45. You’ve had a really good morning so far. You’ve got three things checked off your task list and you’re rewarding yourself with a latte when all of a sudden that little message flashes in the bottom of your screen telling you you have a new email.

You don’t even have to open the message because you see who it’s from. It’s from that person. You know, the person on your team, the one that just rubs you the wrong way. You’ve never really got along. Maybe because they’ve never valued you or maybe something they’ve said. But for whatever reason, it’s just very tense between the two of you.

Now you open the email, and here’s what it says: “I received the presentation you sent. I’ve caught a couple of errors, and I’ve got a couple ideas about how to make it better. I’ll come by your office at three o’clock.”

How do you feel? If you’re like most people I talk to, they say, “Defensive, angry, worried, embarrassed.” More importantly, how are you going to act at three o’clock?

The problem is when you have these reactions, when you start with a negative assumption, you actually get very defensive. You protect yourself. And the problem with that is you don’t hear anything they’re actually saying. Worse, when you get protective, you close your body language and you do things that tell the other person that you’re not interested. And that creates a really negative dynamic.

The interesting thing is that we’ve got so much baggage and we carry that baggage around with us wherever we go. It means we don’t actually get the value from our teammates.

Now let’s look at another example. Wipe that first person out of your mind. Now imagine that person on your team who you just trust implicitly. The person who you chat with on the way out of a meeting, touch base with at the end of the day, the person who you know just has your back. Now imagine the email is from them. “I got the presentation you sent. I found a couple of errors. I’ve got a couple of ideas about how to make it better. I’ll come by your office at three o’clock.”

Now, how do you feel?

If you’re like most people, the answer is relieved. “I’m glad they caught those mistakes” or, “I’m excited and interested to hear what they have to say.” It will be a completely different experience at three o’clock. Person number one never had a chance. Your guard was up from the moment you saw their name on that email. You started with a negative assumption.

If we’re going to make our teams more effective, we have to start with a positive assumption. That way we’ll be able to hear and get the value from one another. If you change your assumptions, you’ll change your team.

More on this

How to deal with the teammate that drives you nuts

The secret to changing teammates from critics to allies Part II

How to respond to criticism