Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.”- Stephen Covey.

I listened to a fascinating interview with the MD of a world renowned meditation app when we had gone into lockdown for the first time here in the UK. Once of the things he mentioned within the interview was his own commitment to API – assuming API within communications, especially as so many of his communications at the time were online due to lockdown. Since then, I have worked on this a great deal myself and explored it’s applications and any studies supporting it. I wanted to write about it here today…

Maybe these people do not have the necessary skill sets to perform this work,” Or “they might not be able to focus as a result of getting pulled into multiple, contrasting directions.”

Well, you might need to question yourself; how would asking these curiosity-based questions, in turn, change your internal narrative? The dynamics of your different relationships? What if you would proceed based on a sense of curiosity rather than any problematic negative assumptions deriving from a place of distrust and scrutiny?

Assuming positive intent or API can be a first step towards strengthening your bonds with other individuals, colleagues, family members, friends or teams instead of potentially harming them as a result of false or problematic assumptions.

I recommend exploring API (Assuming Positive Intent) as a personal internal experiment. Afterward, you might look back on your experience and ask yourself questions such as: Did notice any shift in your relationships? Did you gain insight about yourself, even your team members, or maybe the process? Did you continue to find yourself communicating from a certain place of concern or empathy? And… how did it feel to simply assume positive intent?

I have found communications are far easier, more effective and less tiring as a result. 

What is the key insight behind Assuming Positive Intent (API)?

It is to be understood that we all do make mistakes. However, we can all have double standards at times too – we continue to judge other people’s mistakes quite differently than we tend to judge our own. Being unaware of this sort of double standard can be detrimental to any effective teamwork and tends to create a negative impact on the ability you have to lead or communicate yourself optimally.

When we continue to make mistakes in judgment, we often tend to blame our circumstances rather than taking responsibility. When other people make these same mistakes, we often overemphasize that person’s role and about that mistake – we can be very quick in instantly blaming them! As a result, we often assume that the personalities of the other people, their characters, and their values have continued to lead them towards their mistakes.

Once these conclusions start to arise in our minds, we often behave as if they have all been true. This form of double standard has been documented very well in a scientific experiment conducted by Lee Ross in 1977 and has been known as the Fundamental Attribution Error.

What is the key action behind Assuming Positive Intent (API)?

To truly adopt API, you have to start giving people the benefit of the doubt. You need to assume that these people had positive intentions in their minds, and then you need to identify the various situational details to get the bigger picture.

When the CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, had been asked by Fortune magazine about the most vital leadership advice she had been given, she answered, “Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent.” When you follow this advice, your entire approach to any person or a problem changes. If you tend to assume negative intent, you easily get angry or annoyed. You communicate less effectively with that individual. If you eventually let go of this annoyance or anger and assume this positive intent, you are able to listen to others generously and, in turn, communicate a lot more effectively.

Assuming positive intent has been an essential move in powerful leadership. However, to get good at this, you must first try to recognise any automatic tendency you may have (even if on rare occasions) to see the negative intentions when anything tends to impact you negatively. In turn, you intentionally practice looking for the positive intent.

 When you tend to look for this positive intent, you give people the benefit of the doubt, and you also tend to give yourself a chance to learn the various details of any situation. Communication opens up instead of closing down or seizing up. You might be surprised at how often you might learn something that you had never expected. Once you have learned these details, you might get to see that individuals were indeed committed and competent, for example.

 Maybe, in some instances, you would get to learn that this person might have had negative intent. Allow yourself to learn this instead of jumping to conclusions without any clear information. Then you might as well take action on clear and verified information. Even then, negative intent might be fuelled by something understandable you may empathise with. 

With the help of assuming positive intent, you would also be practicing and leading The Collaborative Way. You would be more likely to avoid more embarrassing and damaging conversations. It makes it easier for numerous other people to engage in more productive, open and honest conversations instead of getting all defensive. You would also be able to properly work together much more effectively in dealing with the situations. 

Why is Assuming Positive Intent a great Productivity Driver?

Assuming positive intent is an essential quality of life. Most people tend to appreciate the dividends a mindset produces in any of the realms of relationships. Well, how could these relationships possibly flourish when you would not assume any intentions that might or might not be there?

Most of us have been guilty of letting our mindsets get easily distracted, our energy sapped, or maybe our harmony being compromised by constantly thinking about what the others would have could have and should have done. However, once we evolve to understand this folly of our mindset, we start to feel freer. We tend to become much more productive professionally due to the constant minimisation of unhelpful and rather distracting thoughts.


“Assume positive intent” is a top quality that I’ve seen being cited more and more. The reasons are pretty obvious. It makes you feel better, your relationships thrive, and it is an approach that is more greatly aligned towards reality, and effective, open, progressive communication. 

Not only would such a shift turn you to be more loved, appreciated and enjoyed by those you communicate with, but it also unleashes many other talents through a much more focused and less distracted mind.


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