I get most of my national and international news in email newsletters from well regarded sources such as the Poynter Institute and Axios. Axios recently launched a new one, Finish Line, that focuses on upbeat stories. A recent issue summarizes how Axios trains its employees to deal with one another. You know, I train people to deal with one another in more productive ways, and I found this issue of Finish Line worth sharing and commenting upon. [1]

While I agree with the practices Axios stresses, I don’t care for the name they give employees who are wildly talented and ambitious, “Killers.” Axios adds that these people should also have humility, “put others and the company first.” The actual practices that the company recommends, however, fall right in line with many of the things I teach, and I recommend the article.

Positive Intent

Axios’ first principle is to assume positive intent on the part of others. I would add that people tend to live up or down to your expectations. When I have had insurance adjusters come to my home. I did not approach them wearing mental boxing gloves. I was friendly, welcoming, offered them a cool drink. In each case, these adjusters volunteered additional things that would be covered by my claim. One of them even helped me find out which people I needed to contact to get my questions answered.

People rarely do things that they believe are bad. It may be that they rationalize themselves into thinking of their behavior as good, but that’s not the same as deliberately doing something you know is bad. My take on assuming positive intent is to inquire what the person means to accomplish by whatever they are doing or saying. In other words, uncover the interests driving the person’s behavior.

However, approaching another person with an open mind as to intentions that they believe are positive, does not mean that you neglect your own interests. If what they do or intend to do cuts against your interests, then even if their intent is good, you can and should try to address the interests behind their behavior in a different way that also addresses your own interests.

For example, a coworker might want to divide the work on a joint project so that he will be doing the parts of the project that are more fun and more likely to be noticed by the boss, while you would be doing the boring grunt work. He may say that his reason is that you are so good at online research. He may say that he is more of a “people person,” so he should be the one to deal with the art department and the marketing people.

He may believe that he is suggesting what would be the best division of work, a positive intention. You may know that he has a history of bossing his coworkers around, taking over the planning of projects, and planning them so that he gets the high profile tasks.

Compare two different approaches. In one, you identify what you believe to be bad intentions. “Oh no you don’t. We both should decide together how the work is divided, and I don’t mean to get stuck with all the grunt work that the boss will hardly notice.”

 Or you can speak to him in a way that suggests you believe his intentions are good while also letting him know that you want your interests satisfied. “It’s true that I’m good at research, and I can understand that you would want to use your people skills. I believe I have good people skills too, and I like to use them. There are parts of the research that will be very easy to do, especially if I give you a little headstart. How about dividing the work in such a way that we each get to have some fun and visibility, and we each do some of the research?

Which way do you think is most likely to get him on board with trying to satisfy your interests as well as his own? And if, in fact, his interest is in having all the fun and taking all the glory and making sure that you don’t get much notice from the boss, can you see how the second approach above is still your best bet?

“Just Ask”

The Axios article states another guideline as follows, “You never know what’s going on in someone’s life. Maybe they just got a horrible medical diagnosis, or had an awful bill come due, or had a relationship fall apart. If someone seems off or down, ask.”

I would add understanding if the person isn’t comfortable talking about what’s wrong. They may have good reasons for not doing so. For example, the person might be abused by their spouse, but if they let that be known, the abuse will only get worse.

Learn More

You can learn more about interactional skills, in my books Bridges to Consensus and Love on the Rocks with a Twist. Even better, try individual training.

The process of dealing with the publisher of my new book Women Can Renew the World If…and So Can You has, again, taken longer than I expected. However, I really do believe I can have this book live on Amazon sometime this month, so stay tuned.


[1] Bear in mind that the newsletter is only a short summary, and that the complete teachings of Axios may well encompass the comments I make in this post.