Giving People the Benefit of the Doubt

Cinergy Coaching by Cinnie Noble

As soon as we begin to react to someone who provokes us there are options about how to proceed. One of those is to give the person the benefit of the doubt. This expression apparently refers to the legal phrase “reasonable doubt” first documented in the 18th Century English law. The phrase was accepted as the degree of doubt required to acquit a criminal defendant and was defined in terms of moral certainty. In the 20th Century “reasonable doubt” was given constitutional status in the U.S. as a standard that reduces the risk of false convictions. This expression continues to be commonly used when assessing criminal culpability.
How does giving another person the benefit of the doubt apply in conflict situations? Several possibilities exist and the same concept of assessing guilt applies. It may, for instance, have to do with questioning the blame we are placing on another person. That is, is there a possibility that we are not be absolutely correct in the fault finding we are directing to or about him or her? Or, it may be about questioning negative interpretations we are making about the other person’s motives. In this case, asking ourselves “What else may he or she have intended?” may be an appropriate way to open up the space for other possible reasons.
As you answer the other questions from this week’s blog, consider a situation and a person’s action for which you are blaming him or her for something. These questions, like all ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions), may be put in the past tense too if it is after the conflict and you are looking back at your reaction.
For what specifically are you blaming the person?
For what reason(s) is she or she at fault?
If you saw or heard a good friend do or say that, what other reasons may you consider as possibilities (if any)?
When you do or say the same sort of things (if you do), what are your reasons for doing so?
If you were to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, what reasons may you consider for his or her actions or words?
What resonates about your answer(s) to the previous question?
What doesn’t resonate about your answer(s)?
If it is just not feel feasible for you to give the benefit of the doubt to this person, how does that impact the relationship and/or situation?
If it is feasible to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, what would that be like for you?
What may that mean for him or her?
What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?


Cinnie Noble

Cinnie Noble is a certified coach (PCC) and mediator and a former lawyer specializing in conflict management coaching. She is the author of two coaching books: Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model and Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You. MORE >

Featured Mediators

View all

Read these next


Mediation: It’s a Team Effort

Settling cases is seldom easy. Even the small cases, the ones that people tell me will be “simple,” can require an unexpected amount of time and effort. In order to...

By Michael P. Carbone

Metaphor and Mediation – Part Three

Part One - Part Two OTHER USES OF METAPHORS When the mediator has an awareness of metaphors, their role in negotiations and the way clients use them, she can also...

By John Haynes

National Divorce Survey Yields Surprising Insights

Many feel unprepared for financial decision making and are unhappy with settlements. Divorce is as popular as ever in America, with over 50% of first marriages and 70% of second...

By J Anthony Licciardello

Find a Mediator