There’s a gift you can give every day to the people you work with—bosses, peers, subordinates. It doesn’t cost a dime, and it pays out major dividends in terms of positive culture and good working relationships. It’s called The Benefit of the Doubt.
Suppose that a colleague of yours is doing some original research as part of a university program. He’s made a major breakthrough, and he’s scheduled a lunch-and-learn to share his findings. The only problem is: You weren’t invited to that lunch-and-learn.
You’re stung when a coworker mentions it in the break room. You sit in your office and stew about this slight. You’re deep in the throes of what’s called social pain, and your brain registers it as a physical pain. Your amygdala takes over and starts to fight back. You start to think things like, “He thinks he’s so much better than me.” “I knew he never liked me.” “It’s probably because he feels threatened by me.” Your mind searches back to all the other slights, and you start to remember when he didn’t include you for a lunch outing, or when he didn’t acknowledge you at that conference. Suddenly you’re into plotting your revenge. “I’ll show him,” you think. You’ve even begun to consider signing up for a PhD program just so you’ll have some research that you won’t share with him.
This is the moment when you could STOP and pull out that precious gift. It’s like a Get Out of Jail Free card.
You go to your colleague—whom you now remember always sends you interesting research updates and articles and who always asks with so much interest about your projects—and you mention that you heard about his lunch-and-learn and you were wondering why you weren’t invited.
Your colleague is surprised and apologetic. He says, “But of course I invited you. You’re part of my team.” He starts fumbling with his email mumbling, “Well, I was in a hurry that day. Maybe I missed you. Oh, I’m so sorry.” But then he looks up and smiles, “No! Here it is. And here’s your name. See. Of course, I invited you, my friend.”
You both laugh. The feeling of relief as the social pain washes away makes you feel almost giddy.
You go back to your office and you pull up your email. You scroll down through the hundreds of messages, back to last Tuesday, when you were out of the office. When you got back to the office that day, you were overwhelmed with all the messages and awaiting tasks and requests. You looked at least four times for that invite and you never saw it. You were rushing, though, and you were upset. This time you search more slowly and carefully, but you still don’t see the invite. “Spam folder?” you wonder. It doesn’t make sense that it would be there, but sometimes your email system does strange things. You click on the Spam folder, and there it is—the third message down.
Without the Benefit of the Doubt, this story would have had a much different ending. Social pain spreads. He slighted me, so I’ll slight him, and you enter a cycle of anger and resentment that ruptures relationships.
In this case, the payback is that you got to go to that lunch-and-learn and find out about that great research. More importantly, your relationship with your colleague is stronger than ever. He knows that you respect him enough to assume he has positive intentions. You have created an ally.
Give It Freely
So, the next time a colleague turns into a monster who’s causing you social pain, pull out this gift card and give the gift that removes all doubt. Who knows it may come back to you.
Claudia Escribano is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.