Imagine receiving this phone message from your boss when you get home: “Hey, could you call me back at your earliest convenience? Thanks.” It’s safe to assume this would make most of us feel a little anxious. Did I do something wrong and will my boss assume it was my fault before he listens to both sides of the story?
My wife’s favorite boss introduced us to the principle of the "presumption of goodwill." Jack never assumed the worst. Experience taught him that there were a minimum of three sides to every story. Before he jumped to any conclusions, he wanted to hear everyone’s perspective. Jack took this principle one step further and assumed that if there was an error, it was an honest mistake. He assumed the individual already felt bad enough and there was no point in rubbing it in.
OK, let's get real. Jack is not the norm. It’s what we hope for, but that’s not what happens in the real world.
Maybe this scenario sounds more familiar: Your boss receives a complaint from a customer and immediately assumes you screwed up. “Hey, what were you thinking? I heard you did XYZ and I don’t understand why you would do that.”
For starters, I didn’t do XYZ and the customer painted an incomplete picture of what occurred. The customer and I discussed this issue at great length and I offered several options before I made a decision. I realize the customer wasn’t happy, but I thoroughly explained the rationale to my decision. Hopefully your boss displays some empathy and says, “Oh, I’m sorry. Your explanation makes a lot of sense and you did a good job of handling a difficult situation.”
If your boss had started with the assumption that you listen to customers' concerns, then maybe he wouldn’t have said “What were you thinking?” Let’s be realistic and admit we all occasionally pass judgment before we know all the facts. What’s important is that we aspire to operate under the presumption of good will and we apologize when we make the mistake of assuming the worst.
In a job interview, it’s important that you show the interviewer that you have empathy and operate under the presumption of goodwill. Organizations are looking for employees who will be an asset to their team. They want people who know how to collaborate and help create a positive work culture. The last thing any organization needs is someone who is critical and creates conflict. Even if you have exceptional technical skills, a judgmental attitude will quickly eliminate you from consideration.
Before your next interview, be prepared to share experiences that reflect your willingness and ability to make everyone on the team more effective. You want to be viewed as someone who is committed to solving problems and not creating conflict.
Here are a few suggestions to help you create that positive image:
If you are asked to describe a conflict with a co-worker or customer, avoid the trap of blaming someone else for what went wrong. Talk about what you did to make things better. Blaming someone else paints you in the light of being judgmental. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. The goal is to utilize everyone’s strengths to create the best outcome for the team. Minimize the use of the word “I” and put more emphasis on what “we” were able to achieve.
A hiring manager recently told me that when she is forced to choose between two equally qualified candidates, she selects the candidate that she would feel most comfortable inviting home for Thanksgiving dinner. Technical qualifications are important, but it’s a positive attitude that will move you to the top of the list.
The presumption of good will is critical to building effective teams, but it is also a guiding principle you can take home. Give it a try.