Flipping Your Perspective in Every Situation and Assuming Good Intent

Kathryn Koehler

Director, Productivity Engineering at Netflix



"Many years ago I read a book titled Leadership and Self Deception by the Arbinger Institute. It used an example involving a married couple with a newborn baby to make a point on changing your perception. In the middle of the night, the baby begins to cry and due to human nature the new parent thinks, 'Ugh, I'm so tired. I had a terrible day and I'm completely exhausted. I can't believe my partner isn't getting out of bed to get the baby. What a selfish jerk.' Using the same scenario, the book talked about the parent simply changing the view of events and assuming the good intent of the sleeping partner thinking instead, 'This person has been so supportive. I am cherished and loved. I will let my partner sleep and I will take care of our crying baby.' Both situations are exactly the same, yet with a fundamental shift in perception, the emotional outcome is so much better. I wondered how powerful this resource could be if I applied it the workplace."

Actions taken

"This example resonated with me and I kept it top of mind for interactions in the workplace. Assuming good intent changes the way you approach situations and in turn, creates a safe space for other people to open up and trust you. This approach to communication leads to better interactions. If you assume good intent you change your perception positively and can take the pressure off of any situation.

This is applicable overall and in particular circumstances. For example, when you assume good intent you don't read angry emails as angry emails anymore. You're not quick to assume that the sender is questioning your authority or intelligence. If read in anger, you'd probably react by firing off a reactionary or angry response. Instead, approach the email with interest as if the sender is simply on a fact finding mission. Your response to the email will be in kind. A nice side effect is that this approach will diffuse tense situations rather than escalating them. Or when people come to me and say that so-and-so said this to me over Slack, I ask them to flip their mindset and shift their perspective by assuming that the other person is coming from a good place (even if they are not!). That completely changes the dynamic and how the recipient reacts and responds."

Lessons learned

  • "In these circumstances, outwardly nothing has changed. The situations are the same but what is different is your perspective. Flip your frame of mind. Rotate your view 180 degrees - this will go a long way towards building trust and respect among your peers because you will always interact with others using the proper mindset."
  • "Shifting your mind takes a lot of energy and is hard work. It's much easier to slip into the old mentality because that is human nature. However, by making the effort you make the interaction better."
  • "Even if other people don't have this same mindset, strive to implement it yourself. Of course, it's beneficial if they have a similar perspective but pay no mind if they don't. If you think about situations and approach them in this way you will be rewarded for it every time."

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Kathryn Koehler

Director, Productivity Engineering at Netflix

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentLeadership TrainingFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthSkill DevelopmentTeam & Project Management

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