Assume the Best: Building a Culture of Positivity

Long gone are the days when we had to bring a note from home to prove we’re going to the dentist’s office during second period. No longer do we have to get in fights with our siblings because they’re shooting us weird looks. Now that we’re the adults, we just live our lives the best we can and assume others are doing the same. Right?

Except that’s not always the case. Whether it’s a matter of maturity or attitude, some people simply resort to childish behavior as the workplace becomes stressful or competitive. As you’ve probably learned working around people like this, any action—or even intent of action—can be questioned. Anything can become “drama” if we decide to have a negative perspective. But there is a way to eliminate the negativity and build a positive, glass-half-full culture, and it begins by assuming the best.

Here are five tips to build a culture in which people assume the best in the workplace:

1. Create a value that encourages employees to assume the best. Company values, when embraced by company leadership, can guide the way your people handle virtually any situation. A company value that encourages people to assume the best will establish a culture of trust and understanding. As you train people on this value, talk through common examples (or uncommon examples) that come up in your company where somebody can view a situation positively or negatively. As you steer people to the positive side of things, it makes for a much more pleasant workplace.

2. Discourage gossip. Nothing erodes the way coworkers see each other like gossip. Whether you are on the spreading or receiving end, gossip makes it very difficult to see the best in others. Gossip is oftentimes an exaggerated version of the truth; a version that can make people seem less than they really are. And this false perception can lead to unfair treatment. For example, let’s say an employee named Mike hears a rumor that a coworker named Paul lied about how many donuts he ate a company breakfast. Kind of stupid, right? But then those two begin working on a project together, and Paul says something that’s hard to believe (but true) and is integral to their project. Will Mike quickly believe him and act accordingly? Hopefully. But that rumor certainly isn’t helping.

3. Expect disagreements. Effective employees think for themselves and are problem solvers. When you get independent thinkers together—trying to grow a successful company—there are bound to be disagreements. It’s inevitable, so deal with it (or even embrace it). Avoiding conflicts usually only makes things worse. However, simply expecting disagreements helps you prepare for them effectively. Make sure your people have a methodology in place to deal with disagreements (hint: start with “assume the best”). This will turn disagreements into a healthy way of solving problems, as opposed to creating bitterness and discontent.

4. Focus on things, not people. This can be a counterintuitive thought when it comes to most HR principles. But when it comes to the issues that can lead to disagreements and other conflicts, it is important to leave aside personal matters. In order to grow as a company, don’t focus on whose idea is better or worse; rather, take the best idea for the company and go with it. When somebody is in the wrong (and sometimes they will be), focus on why the action or idea is wrong, then leave the person out of the picture as much as possible. Even then, point out any positives that exist in the situation and learn from it.

5. Lead by example. This goes without saying, but it really is important. Even if you’re 100 percent certain that somebody is lying or wrong—and a lot of times you will have a unique perspective that gives you certainty—never let it show among your coworkers. Assuming the best doesn’t mean you don’t make wise judgments, it just means you seek the positive. By pointing out the positives in any situation, you will set the precedent for others to do the same. Eventually, the cumulative effect of assuming the best will uplift the whole company. It will lead to a positive, comfortable culture that attracts and retains top talent, both now and for years to come.

“I always prefer to believe the best of everybody; it saves so much trouble.” —Rudyard Kipling

Have you created company values to help promote a great culture at your company? “Assume the best” is one of our company values at BambooHR. This is the second in a blog series designed to explore different company values, see if they may be right for your company and how you can apply them in your workplace as well.
“We assume everyone has good intent. We seek to hear, understand and act out of a desire to do what’s best for the company, our customers and one another.” —BambooHR Brand Book