The Benefit of the Doubt — Practicing Grace in the Workplace

May 22nd, 2014
Kara Blumberg
Candidate Experience
  • Your manager misses your weekly one-on-one meeting.
  • A team member makes a false statement in front of a client.
  • A co-worker does not communicate a piece of information you needed to know.
  • You receive negative feedback from a client regarding a colleague.

…How do you react?

At one of my former employers, I had the chance to work with contracted consultants. We had a very unhappy customer and we were paying one of these partners to essentially re-implement their software. This was a hard cost to my organization and I had gone to leadership to ask for the money, banking on the fact that if we invested in a “do-over” the account (and the $150K renewal) could be salvaged.

The partner assigned a senior resource to the project, one whom I had never worked with but had heard good things about. The project started off well but three weeks in (and days before the customer's scheduled relaunch) the consultant went radio silent. He no-showed for client meetings leaving me hanging and in an uncomfortable position. He did not respond to numerous emails and voicemails from me even though I reached out close to 10 times. With each attempt to contact him, my tone became more urgent and upset. I also contacted his management with no response. My last email to him was nothing short of livid.

And then I heard the news ….

His young son had died a few days earlier. I have a young son. In fact, I have three. My first vision was of him returning to work after this unthinkable personal tragedy to cycle through my distraught voicemails and emails. Then I envisioned him trying to think of what to say in return and probably apologizing profusely. I would have done anything to climb in his voicemail and delete the messages or tap into his email and retract those words. But here is the thing — once you hit 'send' it is too late. Once you pass judgment and act on it, the wheels have been put in motion.

Recently I have been reflecting on the gracious nature of giving others the benefit of the doubt and specifically, how to do this more often. If someone misses a meeting, why not assume they are stuck on a plane with no WIFI? If a team member makes a false statement to a customer, why not assume they simply believed it to be true? And if someone forgets to include you in an important customer update, well, maybe they simply forgot in the rush to respond to an urgent matter to type you in the “to” line.

The benefit of the doubt should not be mistaken for not helping others to improve. Nor should it be a free pass to let others walk all over you and commit the same mistake repeatedly. Rather, it is a mindset and a reminder to pause before reacting and to think — do I really know the root of the intentions behind this person's actions? The people I have respected the most in my career often start their commentary with, “Now I know this was probably not your intent…” or “I am sure there was a good reason you…” followed by feedback once they have an opportunity to hear the recipient's side of the story. This subtle nuance removes the blame and assumption from the start and frees up the relationship and situation for an open dialogue.

Where would you fall on the scale of granting the benefit of the doubt in your professional interactions? I would encourage you to reflect on this and to take that moment of pause before reacting as you engage professionally over the coming weeks. Just try it on for size and see how it works.