The Benefit of The Doubt

Posted: February 8, 2008 in Personality Development
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The Benefit of The Doubt
A Coaching Clinic with Sharon Juden

How many times have you been so preoccupied with your own thoughts that, when someone speaks to you, you either ignore them or give an abrupt reply? And how many times have you been rushing somewhere and driven your car impatiently as a result, cutting people up or driving too close to their tail? Did you mean to be rude, thoughtless, and even a bit dangerous? Of course not!

You know you’re not any of those things. But people don’t always give us the benefit of the doubt. They may well imagine you to be insensitive and bad mannered – or worse.

Since we can’t change others, but we can change ourselves, let’s think about what happens when we give someone the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps we could be more understanding and make a greater effort to assume that people’s negative behavior is the result of something we don’t know about. There is benefit to ourselves and the other person when we give the benefit of the doubt!

Other People’s Shoes

I read a story once about a man traveling on a train. He was trying to read but there were two young children who kept running up and down the aisle beside him making lots of noise. He tolerated it for as long as he could, but eventually got so angry with them that he confronted their father: The father was completely ignoring them and seemed distracted. The angry man demanded to know how the father could sit there listening to his children shouting and not do anything about it. The father turned to him, clearly deeply upset, and apologized. He replied that his wife had died a few days earlier and he hadn’t the heart to tell his children to sit down and be quiet.

Not all situations can be excused so easily, but perhaps we should take heed of the saying: “Never judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”: So let’s look at what’s behind the way we react to other people, and see how we might change that.

What Are Our Expectations?

One of the key drivers of how people react to others is their expectations of how things should be, and how people should behave. Sometimes, however, people set such high expectations and “rules that must be obeyed” that other people just can’t live up to the mark.

Why do they do this? Often it’s about setting boundaries to live within, which makes life feel safer and more predictable. However, when someone else dares to break those rules, the “rule-setter” may be left feeling uncomfortable, irritated, angry, or even frightened. Interestingly, this reaction can say much more about the rule setter than it does about the person breaking the rules.

A Positive Approach in Practice

In order assume positive intentions and give other people the benefit of the doubt, we need to shift our mind set and change our habits. We need to train ourselves to set realistic expectations of other people, and assume that they did not set out with the express intention of upsetting us.

It takes patience and practice to do this, however the rewards are worth it – you’ll almost certainly feel a whole lot more positive in your outlook and relationships with others.

Here are some practical tips to practice, to help you make the change…

1. Think of situations where other people upset you or make you feel stressed. Make a list of things that do this, whether at work or at home. For each situation, think about what your expectations are. Are they realistic? Or can you let go of your old expectations, and see others “with new eyes”?

2. Remind yourself each day to stop before judging other people too harshly, or taking their actions or comments to heart. Train yourself to give the benefit of the doubt by considering other people’s situation, before jumping to a negative conclusion.

3. Learn new language for the disappointments and upsets that are part of everyday life. Keep them in context and reduce the negativity of your reaction. The late report from a colleague is not “a disaster – he obviously wants to make me look bad”. It’s simply “an inconvenience”: And assuming a positive intention, you might help a colleague who’s struggling, as well as avoid the negative feeling that go with the earlier response.

Give it a try – Give the benefit of the doubt, and enjoy the benefit for you and other people around you!

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