I am often struck by the different approach people can have to the same problems. Over and over I see this play out, from work to home we approach issues in sometimes dramatically different ways. However, when you boil it all down, there really seems to be two basic approaches you can have: believe the best, or believe the worst.
1. A spouse comes home after a hard day of work and the house is in chaos. Kids are screaming, dinner is nowhere near ready, and there are dishes piled in the sink. The other spouse is on the couch with their feet up, eyes closed.
2. An employer addresses the workforce: “We are hurting and need to reduce wages. Effective tomorrow, we need to take a 10 percent wage cut.”
In both cases, we have a choice about how we react. Believing the worst in the spouse, you could assume they are lazy so you slam the door and head to the pub. Believing the worst in the employer, you may assume they are skimming off the top or mismanaging the business, so you quit and look for work elsewhere.
The problem with believing the worst is that it limits your options. There is often no room to work when we believe the worst. It may be that the spouse is lazy, or that the employer is skimming and mismanaging, but in my opinion when we believe the worst we limit ourselves.
People often think that believing the best is how you get taken advantage of. That’s only true if you believe the best and ignore the problem. By believing the best and not ignoring the problem, you may still end up at the pub or looking for work, but there are a few more steps in between.
The spouse who believes the best might assume something has happened or that their partner is not feeling well. The employee believing the best might give the employer the benefit of the doubt and keep listening. In both cases, you still address the problem; you just do it from a different standpoint. You leave the options open when you believe the best and then engage in the issue.
The most successful negotiators I have ever met all share the same characteristic: they believe the best in the other party. They are not weak, and they don’t cave, but fundamentally they believe the best, and that leaves all the options on the table.