Goodwill is the only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy.
Lately, I’ve been reminded how little we usually know about another person’s thoughts, emotions and motives.
A friend of mine, Rhonda*, has been struggling with her boss, Will*. She not only felt he was demanding and unappreciative, but that he was out to get her. Any assignment he gave her was greeted with internal suspicion and anger. She would think, “Why didn’t he give this job to someone less busy?” or “This looks like a project that’s doomed to fail. Will wants me to go down in flames so that he can demote me,” or “This is a part of my regular job, why does he feel the need to micro-manage me?”
Any compliment Rhonda received was met with a similar inner dialog. “He didn’t sound sincere,” or “Will gave twice as many compliments to Mary when she got the Olson account, and it was half as difficult,” or “He said my work was ‘fine.’ What he really meant was ‘substandard’.”
Finally, convinced that her job was on the line, Rhonda approached Will and they had a long, in-depth conversation. The meeting was a win for Rhonda, Will, and ultimately, their work place. Will was genuinely surprised to learn how Rhonda felt. He considers her a valuable employee whose particular talents contribute to the success of their business. Both Will and Rhonda realize that they need to improve their communication skills. Will also sees areas in leadership, delegation and team building where he needs to up his game; while Rhonda understands she must stop internalizing every remark and assigning them negative implications.
At the end of their exchange, Will said something that changed Rhonda’s outlook at work and beyond. “Please, assume goodwill. If I forget to say thank you, if I seem distracted or impatient, please, assume goodwill. Assume that I’m forgetful, distracted or impatient, not that it is a personal attack. Assume that I want what is best for our company and everyone in it—including you.”
For me, there were a couple of lessons from this event. First, when in doubt, ASK. Don’t assume you know the other person’s feelings or motivations. Talk it out in the most straightforward manner possible and move on from there.
Second, until proven otherwise, assume goodwill. Assume the other person is not out to get you. If it is ultimately shown that they were in fact devious and untrustworthy, at least you haven’t wasted your time and emotions on worrying about the impossible task of controlling someone else’s actions or feelings.
* Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
This is a great article on assuming goodwill at work: