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The Benefit of the Doubt

It seems like many people have forgotten the fine art of giving others the benefit of the doubt. We assume instantly that any negative action towards us was done on purpose, or with a hidden agenda. Accusations are assumed to be true, gossip gives those accusations strength, and proof is often not asked for or needed to pass judgment. What happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?

As part of a behavioral audit, I was observing the staff of a theatre box office 15 minutes before curtain time. Patrons were being scanned at the door, and the line stopped moving. A nicely dressed man approached the box office and said, “The machine is refusing my ticket.” He was visibly agitated. The box-office person discovered that the patron was here on the wrong night: his ticket was for a show next week. And tonight’s show was sold out. He didn’t take the news well.

The patron pretty much exploded. He swore loudly that the tickets he had purchased were for opening night. He accused the box office of making the mistake and for not fixing it right now so that he could see the show tonight.

“You know what? Screw it! I’m a season subscriber, and if this is the way you treat your subscribers, I’m not renewing my subscription.”

Perhaps we don’t need customers who behave this way. The loss of two subscriptions isn’t the end of the world. But as I had two tickets myself for opening night, I stepped forward and offered him my seats, as I would have more opportunities to see the show. He was surprised, grumpily accepted them, and went into the theater.

On the way out, he apologized to the staff, and thanked me for getting him in. Everyone left happy, and he renewed his subscription after all. It ended up being a useful case study for the box-office staff as part of their training in my exceptional service program.

I choose to believe that this guy is not a jerk all the time. He should have given the box-office staff the benefit of the doubt, but he wasn’t able to do it in the heat of his emotion. But we can always observe, and we can always improve.

This week’s mission:

As you interact with others this week, notice your own conversational approaches and reactions. We can’t control others, but we can control ourselves. To whom should you give the benefit of the doubt? Think of it as a game. And if someone else assumes the worst about you, give them the benefit of the doubt, but politely call them on it. Let’s actively improve our relationships this week.




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I'm Ron Evans. I dramatically improve individual and organizational performance. If you found today's topic intriguing and want to apply it to your situation, I'll brainstorm with you. The few who follow through and take me up on my offer will benefit greatly. Strike while the iron is hot! 


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