Utilizing Positive Intent

Ever receive a text message that set you off; only to be told that they didn’t mean it the way it seemed? Ever send an email and then re-read it to realize that it sounded brusque or rude when in fact you meant to ooze empathy?  You aren’t alone.

One of the most difficult aspects of our communication today is the fact that it is written. While there have been numerous articles on the importance of communicating; not many state how to communicate. And one of the most important aspects about communication is how you perceive tone.

One of the best ways to communicate with others is to see everything they say with positive intent. This means that outside of the word itself being negative (such as “You are stupid. You are a jerk. I hate you. etc.), you look at every word for what it is rather than what you think it is. Without the necessary physical and verbal clues, it is actually nearly impossible to determine what they “actually mean” even if we know the person very well.

While we want to be compassionate leaders, we also need to recognize the fact that our emotions can also cause us to jump to conclusions.

So how do we do it? Let’s try an example:
Dear Sir/Madam, 

I want to inquire about why you felt it necessary to send me a letter of termination. I understand that I did not complete tasks at the necessary speed however, I would have hoped that you would have had the courtesy to actually speak to me. I feel that that is very unprofessional. Send me my paycheck of time worked immediately. 



So Bob was sent a letter of termination. As a professional tip, any terminations should be done via face-to-face communication. If this isn’t possible due to the person being remote, then the meeting should always be done verbally. This is not just for professional courtesy but also so the person you are releasing can ask questions, understand any growth opportunities, and equally important, hear the delivery of your tone to know that it was not done in malice.

Going over this letter, it can be easy to perceive it as being negative with frustration and anger. You may even feel he is personally attacking you with the mention of how unprofessional that the letter is. Your reaction may be to respond with equal anger and frustration.

Let’s take a emotional step back.  If you read the letter with the perception of positive intent, you can come away with the following:

  1. Bob did not understand why he was being terminated.
  2. Bob would like to have a verbal discussion as to the nature of the termination.
  3. Bob’s feedback is that a company is perceived as more professional when releasing an employee verbally versus written.
  4. Bob would like a paycheck for any work done up to this point.

None of this has vitriol or anger involved and is a very objective way to view the latter rather than doing so with emotions swinging.

Reading with positive intent allows you to come away from written communication with a very concise and clear view of what is written. Writing with positive intent also becomes equally useful. It can help ease up the emotional drain buy ensuring that your “yes” means “yes” and your “No” means “no”. It allows you to maintain emotional distance.

While we want to be compassionate leaders, we also need to recognize the fact that our emotions can also cause us to jump to conclusions. We can have compassion, read and write with positive intent, and still say what we mean to say without compromising our emotional integrity.


2 thoughts on “Utilizing Positive Intent

  1. Great information here, thank you. Some years ago, I chose to live my life with positive intent.
    I ‘know’ that I what I say to others, is with good intent. I ‘know’ that what others say to me, is with good intent. Sometimes, questions are needed, for clarification, to better understand the good intent.


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