Giving the benefit of the doubt

(I pulled the best of the emails I sent to subscribers from last year and posted them at https://storia.me/story/098239b0d5c7d000 so you can read them. If you missed them or have been thinking about subscribing but want to know what the emails are like, now you can see.)

The other morning my younger one, who is 10 1/2 now, was cuddling in bed with me, and he looked at me and whispered, "I just want to snuggle with you forever."

It was the moment you think is never going to come when you're dealing with a non-sleeping newborn or a recalcitrant preschooler. It was the moment that validated everything. And it was a continuation of the night before, when he said to me, "Mom, I like that you treat me like I know what I'm doing." What a gift he gave me, to give me that feedback that I was saying the right things and with the right attitude to let him know I trust him and think he's good enough.

People just want to be given the benefit of the doubt. And then they'll do a good job, because they want to know what they're doing.

That same day a friend told me she was looking for a new job, because she'd had her annual review and her boss had spent the entire review berating her. So she was walking, because she isn't about to be treated that way. 

My first reaction was to be thrilled that she knew she could find something else, and wasn't telling herself she had to stay and be treated like that. (Remember when I figured out that people weren't stuck anymore so companies had to start getting their acts together?) And then my second reaction was to hope her boss didn't have children, or was radically different at home than at work. Because anyone who thinks that berating another person who's putting in a good faith effort is a legit way to manage people probably also thinks that berating kids is a legit way to parent.

My friend is going to move on to something better, and new people will cycle through the position with the ineffective boss. Those people will be unhappy and then will leave, and the company will never do as well as it should, but everything will basically be ok. But if the boss is treating their kids with the same lack of care and common sense, it will harm those kids for life.They can't escape their family and that parent. And your parents voices are the voices you hear in your head forever, or until you've done some really extensive therapy. So berating a child has very real, long-lasting negative consequences.

If you are an employee and you are not being given the benefit of the doubt for good faith effort at work, find another job. Now is the time.

If you're a kid and you're not being given the benefit of the doubt by a parent, I am so sorry. You deserve to be treated like you have the capacity to make good decisions, even if you've made some mistakes. It gets better. Hang in there until you can leave. If you're an adult child of someone who doesn't give you the benefit of the doubt, know that it's not normal or healthy, and you have a right (some would argue a duty) to put up some boundaries so you aren't hurt anymore by your parent's lack of faith.

If you are a manager or a parent and you find yourself berating an employee or child or withholding the benefit of the doubt, remember that this says way more about you than it does about them. It might mean that you're overwhelmed with having to be in charge. It might mean that you're out of resources. You might simply be reenacting what happened to you as a child or an employee. Take a little bit of time to figure out why your first reaction is anger at someone who is primarily trying to make you happy. Then figure out why you're letting that first reaction dictate your behavior. (There are probably two distinct layers here. Tease them out so you really know what's going on.) 

Then make a plan to fix whatever problem you're having that is causing you to react in such a negative way. How can you give yourself enough space/confidence/energy/perspective/etc. to be able to use this as a moment to teach and to work with your child or employee to solve the problem? Remember that you can't pour from an empty cup. Self-care is VITAL, in the workplace, too.

It's possible that you're going to have to do some intensive teaching and mentoring of your child or employee so they know what you need them to do. That's good. Yes, it's easier and faster to do it yourself. But the time you put into walking them through what to do so that they fully understand is going to pay off for both of you. If you have an employee who genuinely can't do the work, find another place for them in your organization or somewhere else. If the employee doesn't want to do the work, let them go with kindness and good wishes.

I'm not suggesting that you give everyone off the street the benefit of the doubt: Trust in God but lock your car. But the people who are on your team--your kids and your employees--deserve the benefit of the doubt from you, repeatedly and instinctively. If you can't give that to them, that's a problem you need to solve.