Benefit of the doubt, what does phrase mean? Doubt is something like this: “I don’t understand why my German colleague, Manfred, is doing X. I’m not sure if it is good or bad. My sense, that it is not good. Even more, I don’t know if Manfred’s intentions are good or bad.”
A benefit is something good, positive, in someone’s favor. To give someone the benefit of doubt is to choose to see the good, the positive, in what they say or do.
“I don’t understand why my German colleague, Manfred, is doing X. I don’t know if his intentions are good or bad. However, I choose to give Manfred the benefit of the doubt. I choose to assume, to believe, that what he is doing is good and that Manfred’s intentions are good.”
That’s what it means to give someone the benefit of the doubt.
Why should you give Manfred the benefit of doubt? I can think of six good reasons: First, his actions and intentions might be good. If so, you are on the right side, on the side of Manfred and on side of what is good.
Second, if you are wrong about Manfred, if his actions and intentions were not good, you can always adjust your response.
Third, by giving Manfred the benefit of doubt, you are in a position to help Manfred, to change his actions, to help him have a change of heart. And that is helpful to Manfred and to the team.
Fourth, in the future Manfred will most likely give you the benefit of doubt. You will do things which other colleagues question. Gaining Manfred as a friend and an ally will be helpful to you.
Fifth, colleagues will have observed how you gave Manfred the benefit of doubt. By doing so you are setting an example, you are upholding the right behavior. This encourages others to do the same. Colleagues will be more willing to give each other the benefit of doubt.
Sixth, you will be doing the right thing. That alone is enough reason. You do not need any of the other five reasons.
Oh, and there is a seventh reason, why we should give colleagues the benefit of doubt: cultural differences between Americans and Germans, in how we think and how we work. They will lead to many situations in which the two cultures misread each other.
Depending on the situation both sides will be quick to assume the negative, bad motives, to not give the benefit of doubt. The danger of misreading actions and intentions will be especially high. Instead, let’s look at each other with friendly eyes. Let’s go further, let’s look at each other with loving eyes.