The Personal Plus of Positive Intent

Intent Final

by Andrea Chilcote

As an observer of human behavior – sometimes student and sometimes teacher – I marvel at the fact that there are so many simple and reliable tools for making relationships of all kinds easier. Even when aware of these tools, we so often fail to employ them in the very circumstances that count.

One example is a simple mental model called “positive intent.” I’ve been working to assume positive intent quite a bit these days, as a way to ease the stresses and frustrations of a busy life. It’s so easy to become irritated by others’ supposed shortcomings or to take personally the minor transgressions seemingly committed on purpose to make life difficult. The principle of positive intent requires us to ask one simple question prior to judging, assuming motive for, or reacting to another person’s behavior.

“What possible, positive reason does he or she have for doing or saying that?”

It doesn’t matter what the answer is. The very moment you have an answer, no matter how preposterous it seems, something shifts. Something very big.

There’s a well-known illustration of the principle in Stephen Covey’s blockbuster title, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In short, as a passenger in a crowded subway, Covey becomes irritated at a father who is not disciplining his unruly children. When he gathers the courage to ask the man to intervene, the father tells him they are all returning from the hospital where their mother (his wife), has just died. Covey experiences an instantaneous paradigm shift. Suddenly his irritation pales in comparison to the man’s grief.

The truth of positive intent is one of the toughest things for our egos to swallow. Yet once we assume there might be a reason for another’s behavior that, while perhaps misguided, to them makes some kind of sense, we are then free. Free of being violated, persecuted or even mildly disrespected, suddenly, our thoughts and feelings are independent of the influence of others’ actions. What a break this gives us, in a world in which we are bombarded by input, some welcome and some not.

We can all assume positive intent in daily interactions with everyone from strangers to casual acquaintances. The benefit is a bit less stress, a tad more peace in our hearts. Can you assume positive intent in the most challenging of your relationships? There lies an opportunity that just might transform those relationships. When we think differently, we act differently. When we act differently, others re-act in new ways. Pat your ego gently on the shoulder and try something new – you might reap a surprising reward.

Is It Better To Be Right or Kind?

Andrea Chilcote

With Valentine’s 2014 on the horizon this week, are you seeing yourself and your life experiences (and perhaps another’s) from a heart-centered perspective? Below, Andrea explores life’s challenges from a heart-lens perspective and asks you to consider how you choose to respond.

by Andrea Chilcote

This week, I’m reminded of the question, “Is it better to be right or kind?”

There are versions of this question. A client reminded me of one several years ago, as she was experiencing a conflict at work. She asked herself out loud: “Is better to be right or effective?”—and concluded that while the ego may beg to differ, “effective” was the only path in that situation.

Think about a time you were sure you were right about something large or small, but another person (or group), held an opposite view. I’m not talking about politics, religion or the stuff of conversational debates. I’m talking about taking a personal stand on a perceived injustice or criticism, someone else’s way of doing something, or any irritation that irks you in the moment but is insignificant with perspective.

I have one. Yesterday I felt compelled to express annoyance to my husband for changing virtually every setting in my car’s XM Radio. His response was that I had given him the wrong instructions for finding the channel he was seeking.

At first, I presented the logical argument. My instructions were “right,” and I had evidence in the text message explaining the step-by-step process. (Not to mention I was the one offering help for which he should have been grateful!) But something possessed me to stop, fortunately, and spend three minutes correcting the set-up.

Why is this so hard? At least part of the reason is that we have difficulty discerning between the things we can change by taking a stand, and the things that don’t matter. And, defending the things that don’t matter actually does matter in that we make mountains out of mole hills, as my Dad used to say.

It all matters to our ego. So we have to check in with our logical, objective-thinking self and ask: “Can I influence change here?” If the answer is no, stop. Influence rarely occurs as a result of telling (absent asking), and that’s especially true when telling involves making the other person wrong.

We also need to check in with our heart. Some motivation or unmet need on the part of the other person is driving whatever is making us crazy. Through a heart lens we see this, and the choice to be kind becomes viable.

As you choose your responses to life’s challenges over the next several days, consider these questions:

• Can I influence change (or will my response serve only to inflame)?
• What choice will bring peace to my heart (and perhaps another’s)?
• How can I be kind to myself (and thus spread the resonance of kindness)?

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger.

That Ego Feeling

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

Earlier this week I was talking with a client about balancing the seemingly contradictory demands that create a significant amount of angst in a corporate leader’s life. In day-to-day practice, it’s really tough to make decisions for the good of the company when sometimes those decisions are not good for the business unit. It’s a challenge for executives to be involved and connected at all levels without usurping lower level managers’ autonomy. And, anyone who works in a for-profit business knows that at every turn, the delicate balance of delighting customers and maintaining profitability must be maintained.

We talked about how human ego plays into these decisions, and very quickly the conversation became philosophical. “What do you think ego is?” he asked me. “Is it ever a good thing?”

He cited Eckhart Tolle’s classic work The Power of Now, and we both agreed that Tolle might say there’s nothing good about ego. I told my client I saw ego as a separation from who we really are, and that “who we are” is not a unit but a part of a whole. In that way, no individual is ever separate from his or her corporate peer or competitors – we just think we are, and that’s the problem.

There’s more though. As humans living on the earth, we are each a “self,” connected to all things visible and invisible, but still separate. If this human experience is the ego, the only way to rid ourselves of it completely is to no longer be here in form and that’s certainly not the answer for me or my client.  But here’s the gem. The very moment we observe, rather than identify with, our egocentric “I-me-mine” thoughts and feelings, they dissipate. And our unique and grand selves can go about the work we signed up to do, making decisions that are sometimes imperfect but come from our best and highest self. From our hearts perhaps, not from our egos.

After that call, I came upon a post by a friend. He titled it “Hearts eye.”

Heart’s Eye
“Ego looks at things and people with the eyes in our head. Intuition looks them with the eye in our heart. Have your ego’s eyes gifted you with opportunities (most call problems) that caused you angst? Mine sure have. The eyes in our head see much less than what we give them credit for seeing. Spend time getting to know your heart’s eye, the source of intuition and inner knowledge – for it comes from your soul or Higher Self. Its guidance always is for your highest and best good for all concerned.” – Jackson Hanks 

For some time I’ve been writing that we must learn to lead with our hearts, and make decisions from a place of balance. Our heart provides the guidance we need when either choice seems flawed or contradictory.

The next time you get that ego feeling (you know, superiority, judgment or even the ugly ones like righteousness and victimhood) – stop, and as Tolle would advise, become aware. Look with your heart, and feel the shift. I’ll be practicing along with you.

“You got to look at things with the eye in your heart, not with the two eyes in your head.” –Lame Deer, Medicine Man of the Oglala people