Assume Good Intent

To develop empathy, one of the “games” we play with our corporate clients is called Assume Good Intent. It is a simple concept, and yet one of the most difficult to get people to buy into.

How it is Played

The game can last a day, a week or a month initially. Typically, I would start with a week, simply because it is so hard. In order to play, the game requires complete buy in from your group. This itself can take some time, so plan a meeting around structuring the game itself. The buy in is that in every situation the player must assume the other people’s intentions were good. At the very least they were not bad.

This is a self-monitoring game, so every time you find yourself assuming another person’s intention were bad, you “fine” yourself. The fine should be inconsequential, just a dollar per episode. It should be paid into a centrally located collection bucket. I like to use a 5-gallon water bottle, I have seen others decorate a pail or bucket. Any device could work, but make it public. When paying the fine, make sure others are around and be intentional with the story in which you are self-reporting. This action, will bring your focus on the games intention to the forefront in your mind.

How the Game Works

What you will find is that at the beginning of the game, there will be fines everywhere. People do incomprehensible things. Think about how often we assume someone’s actions were strictly self-centered, or the other person was simply being a jerk. The guy who was passing standstill traffic, by driving on the shoulder of the freeway. How about the customer who threw a fit when they called the customer service line? What about the co-worker who seemingly threw you under the bus, when a problem occurred? In every one of these situations it would be easy to find fault, not just in the actions, but with the intent of the other person.

As the game progresses, we find that the fines lessen. We start to think of other possibilities for the guy who was driving on the shoulder while we were sitting in traffic. Was his wife in labor, and he was rushing to the hospital? Is it possible that he was about to lose a deal, one that would save his career, and had to make an appointment? The customer, who was so unruly and rude on the phone, what was going on in their lives? Did our product malfunction ruin their daughter’s wedding in some way? The co-worker, was not “throwing me under the bus” she was trying to work on the systemic process problem that had been plaguing our company for years.

The Point of the Game

The fact of the matter, is that we do not know what motivated people to do what they were doing. In most cases, whatever it was had nothing to do with us in the first place. There may have been something going on with them. We may still not know what that was, but this game allows us to practice empathy. The point of the game is to practice empathy! An emotion we hope to receive from others, and one that many of us have difficulty with during our hectic work day.

Empathy-Why is that Important?

Empathy is one of the three human characteristics, that I have concluded allow for me to improve every aspect of my life. The other two are Vulnerability and Humility. Empathy allows me to connect with others. It provides a very strong foundation for human connection. Human connection is required in all aspects of my life. From personal relations, family relationships and even business. I understand that there is a whole new economy that is run by machines, systems and procedures that require very little human interaction. I also understand and believe that there are real business opportunities to be had because of the connections we make with other people.

My business is about people, and I prefer it that way!

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