All behaviour has a positive intention

All behaviour has a positive intention is one of the presuppositions or operating beliefs of NLP. At first blush this sounds a little unlikely. A cursory glance in the newspapers will show a huge range of cruel, stupid and just plain nasty behaviour.

That’s the point while the behaviour may be all those things the intention behind them was positive in some way.

Just think back for a moment, there has probably been a time when you have done something flat out stupid, if you look behind what you did to what you wanted to achieve I imagine you will be able to find something positive in the intention, even if the implementation left a little to be desired.

Of course this presupposition is impossible to prove but it’s a very useful point of view to adopt when dealing with people.

I heard a very nice version of this principle at work whilst listening to a podcast of a studio discussion between two cancer patients; Leroy Sievers, a journalist with terminal cancer, and Elizabeth Edwards amongst other things a US senator’s wife also suffering from cancer.

An audience member asked a question about ‘saying the wrong thing’ to cancer patients. He felt he had put his foot in it some years before with a friend who was dying from brain cancer and he still felt guilty about it after all this time.

“How do you handle the situation when a healthy person says something insensitive?”

Elizabeth Edwards answered .

‘I had a 16 year old son who died in 1996 and I had a lot of people say some incredible things to me. And I got some wonderful advice from someone that had lost a brother, and he said:

People will say the wrong thing but know that they intended to say the right thing“. ‘

‘And I’ve always kept that in mind however stupid the things other people say and believe me that was not the stupidest thing I’ve heard by some considerable distance. I always know that they meant to say the right thing and I think that all of us keep that in mind ‘

‘And there are times when I don’t want to hear it, when I’m on the campaign trail I’ve had people come up to me and want to give me a hug and say “My wife died of the same thing that you died of [sic]” and I don’t know what to say to that’

The presenter then offered this reframe: ‘It’s just a premature condolence’. Which provoked a laugh from her saying “That makes me feel so much better”.

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