The Power of Believing the Best

November 19, 2012

Several years ago I had the pleasure of participating in a 16 week leadership coaching training course with the Center for Coaching Excellence (CCE). Since that time I’ve had the pleasure of coaching a number of of business owner or organizational leaders. I enjoyed the insight and techniques I was taught, but the most significant thing I came away with was the relational effectiveness of CCE’s core values for coaching. For anyone wanting to influence others, I think it represents the bottom line.

The value that stood out the most was “believing the best” about other people. Think about that one for a minute. What does believing the best actually mean? How often when we talk or relate with someone do we believe or assume the absolute best about the other person? What could happen if we did? What would it take to get there?  I believe there are three areas we can all improve that will make the difference.

How We View Ourselves

It’s impossible to believe the best about anyone else if we are unable to believe the best about ourselves. Think about it – it’s on the inside that our beliefs are formed and held. Our standard usually starts with us. Zig Ziglar says, “It’s impossible to consistently behave in a manner inconsistent with how we see ourselves. We can do very few things in a positive way if we feel negative about ourselves.” If we’re going to believe the best about anyone, we need to start with the way we think about, talk about, and believe about the person we see in the mirror everyday.

How We View Others

Joyce Landorf Heatherley gives a simple illustration in her small book Balcony People that spoke volumes to me. She differentiates between two types of people: people who evaluate and people who affirm. We’ve all been around people who tend to critique our words, actions, and even our existence as a person. It’s like we are being compared to some unspoken ideal or standard. Nobody appreciates this. It’s near impossible to stay authentic and positive around people who always meet us with scrutiny. Take affirmers on the other hand. These are people convinced that we are up to something good and would love to hear about it. They are incredibly interested in our lives and often take the opportunity to suggest that we are capable of much more than we think. In short, they always believe the best.

Here’s the word picture that Heatherley uses. She calls the affirmers “balcony people” and the evaluators “basement people.” Basement people (whether they realize it or not) are always pulling us down to their level. Ultimately, they fear the worst about themselves. On the other hand, balcony people stand tall and lift you up (where they are). They are smiling down on us encouraging us to press on. Sometimes they are even hollering and cheering!

How We Relate and Communicate With Others

So how can we become balcony people and show that we believe the best about others? Samuel Johnson once commented that, “the applause of a single human being is of great significance.” Wouldn’t it be unfortunate to never take the opportunity to significantly influence the lives of others? Here are some approaches we can use:

Be proactive. Speak up. Any word of encouragement is better than no word at all. Your first attempts may be awkward, but each new time you will become more articulate in communicating that you believe the best.

Be specific. This goes beyond merely catching someone else doing something right. When you notice someone doing something especially well, instead of just stating the obvious, point out what about the particular action you noticed and the benefit it brought to you or someone else.

Assume and affirm noble motives. When you encourage someone, make sure to place the most emphasis on how it reflects a part of their character, not just their actions. Don’t just appeal to the noble motives, like Dale Carnegie said. Call them out when you see them.

Embracing the value of believing the best can potentially accomplish a number of things. It develops discipline to see the positive instead of the negative. It increases our capacity to genuinely care about others. And in many circumstances, when we are “hearty in our approbation,” others are inspired to reach for greater heights than they previously thought possible.

Whose balcony can you step into today? How can you take time to creatively communicate it?

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or   follow him on Twitter.
  • All I have to do is just remember what it’s like to be on the receiving end of each. That spurs me on to want to be a balcony person – to be eager to catch people to be doing great things and to call them on it 🙂

    • Good point, Loren – that’d probably be a great thing to add. Just think what type of person you’d rather interact with (esp. if it was your boss!)

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