“I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.”(…) You can say that and be 100 percent sincere, because if you were the other person you, of course, would feel just as he does.
Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
We tend to judge others by their actions, and judge ourselves by our intentions.
This statement challenges us in all that we face as we interact with others on a daily basis. It is very easy to assess our own behaviors as right when we only take into account our intentions. It is also very easy to assess others behaviors as wrong when we only take into account their actions. Either way, how we perceive ourselves, and others, can greatly impact the relationships we form with friends, colleagues, and our students.
I believe that often problems arise when we operate only through the lens of our intentions and others’ actions. We justify our actions, especially when we make mistakes, by our intentions going into the event or the situation. We process poor outcomes by saying “I meant well,” “I wasn’t trying to offend them,” or “That was not how I wanted this to turn out.” Then we move on, or pass the blame, because we knew our intentions were good, regardless of the what ended up happening. On the flip side, we tend to judge others only by the outcome of an event. “Why were they so mean?” “If that is how they are handling this, they must not care.”
This idea can greatly improve our approach to many issues, both mentally and emotionally, when we encounter challenging interactions and situations. When we get into one of these situations with another person, we must try to not immediately jump to the conclusion about the other person’s perceived intentions based solely on our interpretation of their actions. Take a deep breath and attempt to understand the other person’s perspective. Use a little empathy, give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they have the best intentions. In most cases, most people are coming from a place of good intentions and, surprisingly, are not trying to make your life more difficult. I know, it might be hard to believe but rarely are other people trying to ruin your day by the decisions they make or have previously made. Believe me, every person you come into contact with on a daily basis is not thinking, How will this choice impact (insert your name here)?
Situations like this remind me that very little in life is what it appears at first glance. There is always more to the story of any situation. Our perceptions make the world appear one way through our eyes; while those same events can be perceived very differently by others. Our backgrounds, values, and perceptions of each situation, guide to what we tend to believe about what happened. If those backgrounds, values, and perceptions are different among two individuals (which the always are), then people are going to react differently to the same situation. Is the other person wrong because we perceive ourselves to be right? We have heard the old adage “perception is reality,” but as a leader we must dig way past perception. We cannot just judge people by their actions; we must seek to understand.
What I have come to understand is that if we looked at the world through someone else’s eyes, there would be a lot more gray area than we normally allow ourselves to observe. Or, think about it this way…if you were a student in your classroom or a teacher in your building, what would be your perception of your own actions each day. Would they align with what you believe are your intentions?
As we put people first and lead with love, keep in mind that in most cases the person that you are dealing with is trying to do what they believe is best given the knowledge that they have on the issue in question. The problem is, in most of those cases, that person’s knowledge is either limited or different than your own. That does not make them bad or wrong. However, it does require you to be a bit more patient and understanding. The only person you can control in any situation is yourself. And, it is often your reaction that impacts the true outcome of a problem. You, in whatever role you fill in life, must be willing to accept that patience and understanding is a vital part of successfully working with others. When you give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they have the best intentions, you will be able to move and grow with people rather than trying to improve despite them.