Virtual Coffee has been through a progression of announcements about who we are and what we do. And we’re very thankful for the people who have shared when we get it wrong. One of the times we’ve gotten it wrong was when we included the phrase “assume best intent.” We wanted everyone to assume that we all supported each other, saw each other with an equal lens, and wanted the best for each other. And while that would be great, the truth is that it doesn’t always happen. I’m thankful that one of our members pointed it out to us, and I’m sorry if using that phrase negatively impacted any of our members without us knowing. We’ve since updated our language, and we ask that everyone “lead with kindness, and recognize that the impact of our words matters.” We share our Code of Conduct and our Code of Conduct violation form to ensure that there’s a clear space for folks to share their experiences where they didn’t feel safe.

This was a process. When we created this script, I thought that our members felt safe because of these words. And I’m so incredibly thankful that someone was willing to tell us that this often negatively impacted people who identified as part of a diverse group of people. In fact, according to Forbes, this language can often lead to microaggressions:

brief queries, comments or actions in day-to-day life that target marginalized groups. They are often not intended to be malicious, but over time they can lead to a toxic work environment and can preclude feelings of belonging.

To assume positive intent often doesn’t take into consideration the lived experiences of people who are not like us. And when we assume positive intent, we often don’t take the time to consider the feelings of the person who is on the other side of the conversation. We may say something we believe in that (inadvertently) negatively impacts someone else on our team. We might not mean it that way, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take responsibility for our own actions.

In fact, when we are made aware of our actions–and every community and company should provide a clear way to provide feedback–this is our own opportunity to make amends.

It starts with listening.

  • Listen to what others have to say without responding. Acknowledge what they’re saying.
  • Take time to consider how this impacts our lives, plans, and our beliefs.
  • Apologize fully. Full stop here. If you’re interested in learning more about how to apologize, here are the slides from my How to Apologize Talk.

We apologize to show that we’re willing to grow, accept responsibility, and do better next time.

Here are some resources, as aggregated by the Virtual Coffee Community, about the problems with using the phrase “assume positive intent”:

At Virtual Coffee, we’ve put a lot of time and effort into making our Code of Conduct a living representation of our community. That means it represents who we are and how we believe we should treat each other right now. But, as a commitment to the community, we believe in always learning and growing, and that means we might change in the future.

Virtual Coffee’s mission is to be a welcoming tech community that allows room for growth and mentorship at all levels and to create meaningful opportunities for learning, leadership, and contribution for everyone.

As part of this mission, we meet people where they are; we’re willing to listen and learn from their experiences, and we’re willing to admit when we’ve messed it up.

We’re not always going to get things right. And we’re willing to apologize when we get it wrong. Because what’s more important than what we’ve done in the past is the decisions we’re making right now to make those things right. We have a growth mindset, and we want to grow together.