Why the Benefit of the Doubt Goes a Long Way

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Recently, I worked with a team experiencing some internal conflict. As we sat together, circled up, I immediately noticed one person taking up less space than the others. Her body language was small, and she held her knees closely to her chest. The group decided that it would be best to air their grievances before moving on to anything else.

She breathed out deeply then said, “What really bothers me about the whole thing is that I feel like I wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt.”

A colleague had felt unsupported by her recently, and she had no idea until a third party let her know that they had been talking about the incident. She was hurt.

What goes through our minds when we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt?

The human brain is amazingly creative. You can come up with seemingly endless reasons why something did or didn’t happen. Excuses and lies that you make up for yourself, mostly to help you make sense of things.

Sometimes, you need these excuses. They can help you move beyond painful situations. Other times, the reality that you create can be quite hurtful to those you care about when the matter isn’t openly discussed.

When you give someone the benefit of the doubt, you’re saying, “You’ve got my back, and I know that you support me. I trust your intentions.” When fear and doubt get in the way, you might find yourself jumping to other conclusions. “She wanted to see me fail. She’s jealous. She never liked me anyway.” These are all dangerous stories that we tell ourselves…. But they’re just that: stories.

The next time that you find yourself annoyed with a friend or colleague, stop to consider another possibility. Maybe your coworker wasn’t trying to sabotage the project or make you look bad in front of the boss. Maybe she’s working two jobs and she’s overtired. Or not feeling well. Or otherwise distracted. Give them the benefit of the doubt, have a conversation and save yourself the story spinning.

Have you fallen into the story spinning trap recently? Share your experience in the comments.



2 thoughts on “Why the Benefit of the Doubt Goes a Long Way

  1. ladytuzigoot says:

    I find this happens when I myself am hungry, angry, sad, etc.
    Recently, I was at the Trader Joes free samples line when a woman with her grandson cut in front of me. I gave them both the biggest ” who do you think you are ?” face. The woman quickly apologized and and said she honestly didn’t see that I was in line. A honest simple mistake but I was so blinded by my own grumpiness that I stormed away with my chicken pot pie or whatever. I need a mantra in these moments- any ideas? -Lizzie


    • Dana Malone, CPC, ELI-MP says:

      Great question. If you feel that a mantra would help, it depends on what phrases appeal to you. Personally, I try to remember to take a breath during those types of situations so that I can respond instead of reacting.
      “Choose joy, choose peace” is a phrase that I find to be generally calming. Think about what resonates with you and give it a try next time you find yourself frustrated. And remember, #ProgressNotPerfection– it can take time to make the shift.


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