Goodwill is More than an Asset

On a balance sheet, goodwill is an asset that increases the value of a company. Although it’s intangible, there’s no question that it’s real—and can be substantial. To neglect the goodwill a company has earned is to misunderstand its full value. The same is true in personal and professional interactions.

A good approach is to work with a rule of redress based on the presumption of goodwill, that is, if you have a problem with a colleague, you have the responsibility to give them the benefit of the doubt and address the issue directly, privately and respectfully.

It’s amazing how many offenses could be forgiven and problems resolved by following this simple standard. Co-workers and colleagues seldom intentionally try to offend one another, but we are all human, so miscommunications and misunderstandings happen. Most of the time they’re unintentional, so the presumption of goodwill saves a great deal of angst and energy.

Approaching others with goodwill engenders empathy; you cut them slack, do your best to walk in their shoes, and view things from their perspective. Empathy fosters conversation, understanding and resolution — all of which enhance trust. By contrast, a lack of goodwill tends to manifest itself in resentment, mistrust and confrontation, resulting in self-fulfilling breakdowns of trust.

Presuming goodwill requires you to begin with the perspective that the issue is not solely about the other person or their actions; it’s just as much about your own frame of mind. Another good rule is to beware of doing anything when we’re agitated. If the anger persists until tomorrow or next week we can still act on it, but so often what we’re tempted to do in the heat of the moment will cause more problems than it solves.

Summing-up: It may be unrealistic to expect more discretion and goodwill in our broader cultural debates, but as a leader you should insist on it in your organization. More importantly, you should model it. Yes, presuming goodwill requires more emotional energy and intelligence on the front end of a sticky situation, but on the back end, it’s well worth it.

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