Assume Innocence

Some weeks back I wrote about seeking to understand where someone is coming from before making yourself understood. In essence it was a post about empathy, but I was also talking about brooching taboo topics.

There is another side to this. If we are to seek to first understand we must also listen to what someone has to say. Mel Buckenham wrote a post not long ago about how we listen. To build on that, there is something about the message we are hearing and the assumption we’re making about our audience.

Working with someone recently on their understanding of how to think of an audience they remarked “oh yes, we should always assume our audience is stupid.” This wasn’t meant in a rude or derogatory way, but I don’t like the phrase. You’re immediately taking the power away from the person you’re talking with, and that just doesn’t bode well. It may not be harmful but it certainly won’t be positive or encouraging a relationship.

Instead, I think we should start from a point of assuming innocence. It’s a simple turn of phrase that gives new direction and focus for the person we’re speaking with. There does seem to be far too many who will assume cynicism and indeed stupidity with no hesitation. I understand it, but certainly done abide it.

Assuming innocence sits nicely with the Intelligent Behaviours theory I’ve spoken about before. If we think about the other person as being innocent it allows so much more interactivity and flow of discussion. It also allows you to ask questions and point out flaws without seeming negative. It involves actively changing your thinking so that the language you use becomes more collegiate and constructive. You share the power of the conversation because you haven’t already taken it away with your own assumptions.

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