Assume Positive Intent

I had a wonderful boss a few years back. Not only has she become a dear and treasured friend, but she gave me a piece of advice at a moment I genuinely needed to hear it.

Assume positive intent.

The specific advice came in the midst of a random (and long-forgotten) frustration at work. But in true Addison fashion, I was ranting and grumbling about something someone did. Actually, it wasn’t about what they did, it was about how I believed they’d acted. I’d convinced myself that they not only missed the mark on a project (again…what that project was I have no recollection) but I’d insisted they’d done it on purpose. That they didn’t care. More, that they were intentional in their behavior.

Now, I don’t know about you but I make a million decisions a day and very rarely, if ever, do I make those decisions with the direct purpose of hurting someone, screwing up or displaying any level of bad behavior. Nor, in my heart of hearts, do I believe others act that way, either. Yet in the heat of that moment, I’d convinced myself of someone else’s poor intentions.

Cindy’s guidance and wisdom was invaluable. What’s been even more invaluable is both the kindness and the renewed freedom it’s brought to my life. While this example came out of my day job, I’ve worked hard to employ it across a variety of scenarios, all of which have made my writing better, my work life balance better and my overall happiness better.

In thinking about some of the frustrations I hear in writer circles, I realized that by Assuming Positive Intent we can take a situation and turn it completely on its ear. Further, it can take us outside of our normal writers paranoia (which let’s be honest, we all have) and assess a situation with a fresh perspective.


Receive a rejection on a proposal?

Read it for the valuable professional advice it is. If the market’s not buying this book you’re marketing, isn’t it worth understanding that now instead of spending the time to write the full book?


Not get a response to an email?

Instead of seeing it as an intentional slight, maybe bump back up to the top of someone’s inbox with a friendly note.


Didn’t receive an invite to a professional writer’s event?

Maybe send a note to the coordinator sharing your enthusiasm and excitement for the program and see if there’s a chance to attend as a guest instead of an author? Even better, if the event’s for charity, offer your time to the effort.


Obviously there are a million and one scenarios we could come up with, but what struck me so simply about the advice is that if you move into a conflicting situation recognizing the person on the other end meant no malice or ill will, it’s a heck of a lot easier to address it or find a solution to that conflict.

Even more important than finding solutions – I feel I’m being a far better version of myself since I’ve adopted API.

Thanks for joining me today! And wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy 2018!



24 responses to “Assume Positive Intent”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    This is such wise advice, Addison!!

    I agree that most people are generally trying to be decent, and when we assume positive intent, we’re FAR more likely to interact with others with goodwill ourselves. Maybe you didn’t get what you wanted this time, but build good relationships, and it’s much more likely you’ll get a positive response next time.

    • Addison Fox says:

      So so true, Elisa!

      It’s amazing how much a positive focus vs. a negative one changes the whole experience.

  2. Awesome advice, sister. I’m a firm believer that you need to stay positive, see good, have hope. Without it, we’d shrivel away inside and become bitter.

    Happy Holidays to you and your family too!

  3. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    Very sound advice, Addison. And timely. I know for a fact I was slighted for a lead volunteer position. I wasn’t even given the courtesy of a follow-up return email. This for an organization I had already given 6 years to. There is no doubt in my mind the way one person who made the decision was intentionally blowing me off. BUT…by employing API, I can look at things differently. Though I have more experience than the person chosen, perhaps he felt more comfortable choosing someone he’d worked with more closely for the past year than me. Perhaps it is his nature to choose a path well worn. Perhaps, in his mind, I didn’t respond quick enough when I was nominated for the position. While I may not agree with his decision, it’s wasteful to my time and health to be upset over it. Be gracious and accept situations for what they are. Using API to look beyond ourselves can make us fair, gracious, and free of negativity.

    Great post, Addison.

    • Addison Fox says:

      Thanks, Jenn!

      I know these situations are hard and frustrating – I wish you peace. (And the knowledge this is their loss!!!) – xo

  4. Julia Day says:

    This is so true. I’m a facilitator in my day job–and we are having a lot of retrospectives now at year’s end. That’s one of our tenets–to assume everyone was doing the best they could with the information they had and with the best intentions. It makes it easier to see the real reasons things didn’t go the way we wanted–and gives you inspiration for how to make it better.

    Thank you for such a great post!

    • Addison Fox says:

      Thanks, Julia!

      And it amazes me how we really are all works in progress. We try hard, but it’s nice when we stumble that there are ways to get back up!!

  5. Becky Holl says:

    This is great advice for everyone and anyone.Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Tamara Hogan says:

    Addison, those bosses are worth their weight in gold, aren’t they? Early in my technology career, I had a great boss who introduced me to the concept of “Trust but verify” – trust what people tell you, but verify the information using available data sources. Dawn’s advice served me well when I moved into an auditing and compliance role – and it’s come in handy in my personal life on many occasions. 🙂

    • Addison Fox says:

      Oh, it’s so true. I learned so much working with Cindy – both personal and professional – and feel so fortunate to have made a dear friend in the process.

  7. What an inspiring post. I too believe that most people at their core are good, now if we could cure the world of stupid all of that goodness could shine through.

  8. Tracy Brody says:

    Great advice and reminders! How much better would we have feel if we took the positive tact rather that look for the negative.

    • Addison Fox says:

      It’s true, Tracy. Positive focus really is the best choice!

      What struck me was how applicable this was to the writers life. We are always looking for the downside of rejection or reviews or whatever and sometimes just shifting our focus can make all the difference!

  9. Darynda Jones says:

    Such fantastic advice, Addison! Sometimes it’s hard to assume positive intent, but the only one you’re usually hurting otherwise is yourself. I’ve decided that by giving in to anger, the other person is winning either way, intentional or not. And I’m a nauseatingly positive person. Ask my family! LOL.

    Thanks for this!

  10. What great advice and in just three words. Thanks, Addison!

  11. Diana Layne says:

    Loved this, Addison.

  12. Vivi Andrews says:

    I love this Addison! I also love the idea of putting it into our books. No one us trying to be the villain of the story – everyone is trying to achieve their own goals.

    FABULOUS post!!!

    • Addison Fox says:

      That’s an awesome point, Vivi! Using this from the character’s POV is an incredibly interesting take! LOVE IT!!!!


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