Err on the Side of “Nice”

In my work dealing with difficult people, I stay tuned in to the people and situations where someone behaves in a way (or is perceived to behave in a way) that is difficult and uncomfortable for someone else.

But this week I am seeing that, from a general cultural perspective, we seem to err on the side of nasty rather than nice. At the holidays, I think we could all take a step back and see where we rush in with a negative comment, or a negative approach, when we just as easily could have chosen something more positive.

At a meeting I had this week with a bank client of mine, I was talking with two of the nicest people I have ever worked with about their business. These folks are genuinely nice, socially responsible, kind people. They were lamenting that a long-time customer had recently blogged about them over an incident related to fees. Now the incident had already been resolved, to the customer’s gain, but the person still blogged all about this bank and how awful they are to their customers.

These folks were so despondent, reading something written about them that was patently untrue – but they were completely unable to do anything about it (banking regulation prohibits a response). In the same week, my article and video interview withNewsweek were put online, discussing the impact of a “healthcare fine” on my family. Reading the comments that have been posted has been very dismaying to me – ranting about the two different political parties, insulting one another back and forth in the blog discussions, etc.

I watched these two incidents with amazement – and read many things on my own that have been written and posted. My bank client said, “I think the idea of giving someone a break and being nice has just gone out of the window in our culture.”

It’s true – when did we get so upset with one another and so quick to point out another’s flaws? In my book, “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior,” I write about secret number one, “It’s all about me”. And we can’t help but have our filters and our view on the world that is very me-focused. But if we have a choice in our behavior, why do we choose the approach to cut someone else down, or assume they are out to get us?

Years ago in my corporate role we worked with a consultant who helped us with team building. At one meeting, he shared a concept that comes from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) called “assume positive intent.” To assume positive intent means that instead of having a knee-jerk reaction that you are out to get me, or that you are a jerk on purpose – I will assume that, for you, you are taking the best course of action that you know to at the time. In other words, your intent is positive, but your actions and behavior may be negative (to me). To assume positive intent means I have to extend a bit of an olive branch to you – to be more hopeful and open that you are well-meaning toward me, even if your behavior doesn’t appear to be so.

Stepping into someone else’s shoes, having compassion for another, assuming positive intent – whatever term you want to use, please spend some time this week finding a way to extend grace and kindness toward someone else. Not every one “deserves” it, I know – but this week, do it anyway.