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Assigning Neutral Intent

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We’ve all been there.

Someone cuts us off in traffic, neglects to hold the door open, looks at us the wrong way, says the wrong thing. It could be a perfect stranger or an acquaintance or even a loved one, but if it hits us in the wrong place at the wrong time it triggers a shitstorm of of supposition: What an asshole! That woman is trying to kill me with her car. Thanks for letting the door close on me on purpose! Is she judging my outfit again? She’s such a bitch! He wants to know how my job search is going because he wants to see me fail because he is a dick…


The thing is we’re assigning malicious intent to what could quite honestly be a completely unintentional, everyday, innocent action. When we immediately assume the position of victim at the mercy of something someone said or did, we’re putting ourselves at the center of another person’s universe who quite honestly probably didn’t even notice us. They were probably just driving along (just like we were). They were probably just unaware we were directly behind them as they innocently walked through a door. They were probably just looking at us as we entered the room because they have eyes and are acknowledging our presence. They are asking us questions because they’re genuinely interested in our lives and/or politely trying to make small talk.

I do this all the time. If you text me when I’m getting ready I assume you’re trying to rush me because you are trying to ruin my night. If you so much as look at me I assume you are judging my body and clothes and hair. If you ask me about anything in my life (job, relationship, etc.) I assume you have some negative ulterior motive for the question. Suddenly “How’s the new job?” becomes:

“Ooh, how’s that move back to corporate life treating you after you failed at making a career out of teaching yoga and doing your own consulting stuff? Must suck, huh?”

Sometimes people really are just being assholes, but I’d say for the most part these kind of downward negative spirals stem from our own insecurities and doubts, not from someone else’s malicious intent to ruin our day.

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I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been catching myself and people around me doing it quite frequently. So I’m trying to practice the art of assigning neutral intent to things that are happening around me. I don’t want to go so far as to assume everyone has my best interest at heart (that’s too idealist for my pessimism), but I can at least free myself from the unnecessary burden of decoding people’s every action by simply assuming it came my way on neutral ground. You were living your life and I was living my life and we have crossed paths. What I choose to do with that interaction (respond positively or negatively) is up to me.

We all mess up sometimes. We’ll cut someone off in traffic. We’ll forget to hold the door open. We’ll ask a question about a subject we don’t know is loaded and sensitive for the recipient. And when we do, I think we’ll all agree that we’d like a do over or, at the very least, the benefit of the doubt. The least we can do is give the same to those around us.

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I spent two days on Kiawah Island this week for our end-of-the-year work retreat to gear up for 2015. It was great to just get out of Charlotte for a bit and get hyped about next year. We have big stuff going on and I feel like I’m in a good place in my life in general. Happy happy Friday…


  1. I am incredibly guilty of this. It takes the merest hint of a slight to turn my mood (and subsequently my day), to garbage.
    Neutral intent. I like it.

    • Katie Katie

      Thanks! It was freezing but still worth the outside time.

  2. Marie Marie

    Great, honest post!

    • Katie Katie


  3. Jeannie Jeannie

    I love this post! I am so guilty of this and never thought twice about it. But you are so right…

    • Katie Katie

      Same here. I do it all the time.

  4. TaMo TaMo

    We all know what *assume* means………………………………

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