Give Others The Benefit of the Doubt

Erica Dhawan
3 min readJan 3, 2023

In our daily communications, we get messages like this all the time:

“What does this mean???????” — Is it a simple question or an accusation?

“We need to talk.” — Is it as ominous as it sounds or a meeting request?

“CAN YOU SEND ME THIS TODAY” — Is all caps implying frustration or a simple all CAPS due to fast texting?

I think we can all acknowledge that communicating in our modern world is challenging. But having compassion for ourselves and others can convert angry reactions into positive action. Learning to remember the human behind the screen first, before focusing on the task is at the crux of digital grace.

Recently, I worked with a client who would never get back to me on time with the training schedule I needed to deliver my work. I became frustrated with her because I assumed she was lazy or lacked interest in the project. It was only until I worked on a different project a few months later with her that I realized that her boss simply did not respond to emails at all. She would have to text him or wait until a weekly call to get answers to simple things. It gave me the empathy I needed to understand her delays. I realized I should have given her the benefit of the doubt upfront.

So here’s one of the most important skills in work today: Assume the best intent. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Think about why they might have made a mistake in communication. Were they moving too fast, under pressure, and thought a simple message wouldn’t be offensive to you? People sometimes do these things without realizing they are making these mistakes at all.

Here are two ways to assume the best intent in difficult or confusing situations:

  1. Think about how you can shift the conversation: Change the medium from a text or email to a phone call, video discussion or live meeting. Sometimes shifting the shared context will help you understand what might be going on for the other person that you’re not aware of.
  2. Have an open ended discussion. Instead of reacting with “How Dare You?” or tell them they’re being rude, ask with curiosity. Use phrases like, “Help me understand why you’re saying this.” or “What made you feel this way?”

Usually a curious, non threatening tone gives others a way to share authentically and it allows you to give them the benefit of the doubt and get the information you need to feel more clear and calm. Keep these tips in mind when discussing expectations for communication between your team’s members and what that means for your team’s Culture.

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Erica Dhawan

Keynote Speaker on 21st Century Teamwork and Innovation. Author, GET BIG THINGS DONE and DIGITAL BODY LANGUAGE (ORDER HERE: http://bit.ly/3avbJkg)