[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
— 1 CORINTHIANS 13:7
Have you ever been given “the benefit of the doubt”?
Generally, this means to give someone the benefit of the doubt is to believe them even though you may feel skeptical about what they are saying.”
The Free Dictionary says: “to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the possibility of doing either.” The benefit of the doubt is proactive trust.
This is something we could all use more of. For the small business owners and entrepreneurs, you need to believe that the people you deal with have good in their hearts if you’re going to weather differences of perspective and opinions that we businesspersons encounter daily.
Trust, unfortunately, is often a chicken-or-egg scenario. Psychology research tells us that showing people trust first is an incredibly effective way to have trust reciprocated on us. Harvard professor Jeffrey Polzer calls this process a “vulnerability loop.” For example, when you take a risk by trusting a person, that person is very likely to read that as a sign that they can show you trust. In other words, when it comes to trust, the egg should come first—if you want to build it quickly, that is.
On the other hand, when trust has not been established and somebody does something we perceive as wrong, it is hard to get a vulnerability loop going. When we perceive that someone is “bad,” we aren’t going to feel comfortable taking a risk on them. This is where a wise business leader might recommend giving others the “benefit of the doubt.”
Offering someone the benefit of the doubt is deciding that you won’t assume the worst in them. Treating someone charitably is deciding to assume the best in them. This distinction is essential. It’s the difference between action and inaction.
Being charitable means seeking out the kindest explanations and starting there when dealing with people—instead of sitting back neutrally and allowing people to prove themselves. Or worse, treating people as if guilty until proven innocent.
To better understand how to be charitable in relationships when giving the benefit of the doubt, it is helpful to turn to the Bible.
Our ability to wait on the Lord is largely related to how much we trust Him. When we trust in God with all our heart, forgoing reliance on our own, often erroneous understanding of circumstances, He will indeed give us direction. When we need to provide charity, it is through God’s timing that we rely.
Think and pray
Giving the benefit of the doubt is an act of charity, and charity is a gift of God. So be charitable and take the first step, and trust other people first. More often than not, you will be rewarded, and your business will prosper.
Lord, help me to be charitable and patient with others as You have been to me, making the first move and choosing to believe the best in others. Let my relationships be strengthened as others see Your fruit in my life, and let it lead to conversations about what You’ve done for us. Amen.
Philip W. Struble is the President of Landplan Engineering and is passionate about helping business leaders steward their companies in a way that honors God. He is the author of Zebedee and Sons Fishing Co.: Business Advice from the Bible and hosts a weekly blog at www.zebedeeandsonsfishingco.com. Philip and his wife, Stephanie, have four adult children and currently reside on a small farm in rural Douglas County, Kansas.