People are messy! I don’t mean cluttered or unorganized, though they often are. I mean that people are unpredictable, complex and confusing.

Two people in the same situation will hardly ever react identically. This is beautiful, because it creates the diverse world we live in, but it’s also frustrating because it makes other people’s actions so bewildering. “Why would they do that??” becomes the common question. How folks even perceive an event or experience is highly affected by their past experiences. This means that before we even get to a reaction, it’s likely you and I will think that things happened subtly different. In some ways we’re lucky that folks in an organization or community get along as well as they do!

Yet, we can do better! I don’t know a solution that will allow us to always interpret other’s actions, but we can talk about a better way to try. Don’t assume malice. Don’t jump straight to the conclusion that other folks are acting with an evil intention. Assume positive intent!

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity

“Hanlon’s Razor” by Robert Hanlon

I dislike this quote, because it implies that stupidity is the next step up from malice, so I’d edit it slight. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by anything else. Yes, stay alert for folks who do have malice in their hearts and are looking to take advantage of others, but don’t jump straight to that conclusion.

Sometimes people make stupid mistakes. Sometimes people act emotionally or jump to illogical conclusions. But everyone’s got their own background and brings their own experience that affects their opinion and actions. This variety isn’t something to be “tolerated”, but should be actively sought out. Relevantly, HBR posted an research article yesterday that showed when women are on corporate boards, male CEOs tend to be less overconfident and “less aggressive in risk-taking, yielding better results for shareholders.” The point here isn’t simply to find women to add to a board, but to build a diverse team!

The more diverse any organization or community becomes, the more diverse the opinions become and the more friction you might run into. You can help by looking to understand. It can be as simple as asking the question with an open mind. Try listening without any intent to reply, just truly listening.

There are certainly a handful of malicious people out there and more than a handful of grumps. But the majority of folks (and most of those grumps too!) are just trying to do their best. Listen, actively listen, without judgement and you’ll find that diversity in thought and experience makes the world so much more incredible.