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Becoming a Positive Leader by Using Mutual Goodwill: A Concept of Interacting Positively with Students, Colleagues, and Stakeholders

Dawn Coder, The Pennsylvania State University, World Campus

Dawn Coder.jpgThe culture within an office whose team provides service to others can set the tone for communicating positively in each situation, whether it is with a student, colleague, or a stakeholder. Communicating with students, colleagues, and stakeholders can be difficult if past intentions are negative and cloud each and every contact. Implementing mutual goodwill on a team can change the entire dynamic of all communications by providing a positive tone in all interactions. The concept of mutual goodwill expects that in all communications, whether it is a difficult conversation or in asking questions, those involved show goodwill by not assuming any underlying agenda. The assumption is that all involved in the conversation are genuine in the context, regardless of past interactions, including the written or verbal tone of those interactions. All communication has the assumption of being positive and helpful to each other, which builds honesty and trust, facilitates positive relationships, offers forgiveness, and results in a culture of helping one another.

Understanding Mutual Goodwill

Mutual goodwill requires that:

  • Questions are asked in a positive, helpful way;
  • The tone in all communications is thankful and the person asking a question does not take the response personally but assumes it will be a positive outcome;
  • Detailed information is provided and if additional information is requested, it is provided without a negative connotation;
  • Once the decision is made, the person thanks the student, colleague, or stakeholder and does not use that interaction as an example of the next interaction with the person;
  • Each interaction is experienced as a new one. Past interactions are left in the past and not used except to learn from anything that was confusing;
  • Team members look for ways to improve relationships and always communicate, even in the most difficult situations, positively and directly without taking on the other person’s emotions or tones;
  • Individuals do not seek control over situations and assume that there are reasons for making a decision.

Forgiveness is necessary in order to follow the concepts of mutual goodwill. “Forgiveness restores hope and productivity in the workplace. Not forgiving creates separation. When we judge others, we must also look at ourselves and be honest about what we haven't been able to forgive in ourselves” said David Williams (2015). Forgiveness is a beginning. It is the first step in allowing a team to heal when faced with leaders who dictate rather than provide a democratic process for team members. Understanding personal issues and forgiving those personal issues will be key in following mutual goodwill and in bonding as a team, regardless of leadership style.

Consider a team culture which does not allow for mutual goodwill. Sally, the director of a unit, makes a decision to change roster sizes for all academic advisors. Alexis, an academic advisor on Sally’s team, has been with the team for five years and is disgruntled about the change. Sally is a manager who likes to dictate to her staff. She does not allow for positive relationships to be built and will not allow for anyone to speak their concerns about changes occurring. When Sally’s team members try to share concerns or opinions, she ends the conversation and states that she “has made her decision and they will need to support it.”

In this situation, the team is not experiencing mutual goodwill from leadership. Consider Williams’ (2015) comment “Sometimes forgiveness is withheld because we think it means we are accepting or condoning a behavior. This is self-serving and judgmental. Issues that could easily be resolved become personal and create unnecessary conflict in the workplace.” Mutual goodwill can begin with anyone. It does not have to start with leadership to positively affect the entire team. Although the team is not getting mutual goodwill from Sally, they can use it with each other and improve morale on the team through each other.

Applying Mutual Goodwill in the Workplace

Using mutual goodwill as a leader has the ability to change team environments into a more open, transparent culture. Van Valin (2018) writes “Many people have created an exterior that makes it appear dangerous for anyone to offer their own healthy perspective of coaching. Some have inadvertently locked-out the potential to be helped by others. When this happens in large numbers at work, it tips the tipping-point for a culture that lacks honesty and the ability to self-correct.” When was the last time you walked into a meeting with colleagues and had a sinking feeling because of past conversations? What if you walked into the meeting, with these same participants, and had the intent of being positive, forgiving, and helpful? Would the outcome be different for you? It takes one individual to start this process, build trust, and create patterns of positive interactions that grow mutual goodwill.

Mutual goodwill can shift the dynamics in difficult conversations, and advisors may find applying mutual goodwill as a useful tool when:

  • interacting with students who show a pattern of not taking responsibility for mistakes;
  • discussing potentially challenging topics with supervisors, especially supervisors who have not been supportive in the past;
  • responding to aggressive emails, whether those come from students or colleagues;
  • changing the tone of any communication from negative to positive;
  • building relationships that foster trust and respect;
  • respectfully disagreeing with a colleague or supervisor while maintaining a positive relationship; or
  • turning negative communications into positive ones, regardless of past interactions.

The following illustrate how advisors might apply mutual goodwill in some of these scenarios.  

Example One. An administrator who oversees university advising is known for being difficult when questions are asked, especially in regards to decisions about advising at the institution. Many times the response from the administrator has a tone of taking power over the situation and degrading the advisor who asked the question. Additionally, the decisions this advisor makes do not tend to support student-centeredness. Mutual goodwill dictates that each interaction with the stakeholder is a fresh view with the idea that it will be a positive, helpful conversation. The person who is interacting with the administrator provides forgiveness from past conversations and begins the conversation with the intent of building a trusting relationship.

Example Two. A student sends the same nasty email to his academic adviser each semester complaining that he has not received any course recommendations. When the advisor sees the student’s name displayed on their computer screen, they experience a sinking feeling knowing that his past interactions have been nasty. Mutual goodwill dictates that this advisor put aside personal feelings and views the communication as though it is the very first email that this student has sent. Looking at the email as if it is a brand new student and interacting with him for the first time allows the academic advisor to provide consistent, friendly advice without judgment. It will also open up communication to review the expectations of the student advisor relationship and give the advisor the opportunity to discuss how to communicate positively.

Taking an intentional step to change is what is important. Mark Cuban shares:

One of the most underrated skills in business right now is being nice. Nice sells. . . . I went through my own metamorphosis, if you will. Early on in my career, I was like bam, bam, bam, bam, bam—I might curse. I might get mad. And then I just got to the point—I wouldn't have wanted to do business with me when I was in my 20s. And so I had to change, and I did, and it really paid off. (as cited in Elkins, 2018)

Mark Cuban recognized that he and his team were more productive when he brought a positive environment to each meeting rather than allowing his negative emotions to dictate the atmosphere of the meeting. He removed his emotional responses, did not allow the past to influence the present, and brought a helpful, understanding perspective. He recognized the need to change and it has provided better and more positive interactions in the workplace.

Mutual goodwill: a positive environment; a positive team culture; positive student interactions, and positive future communications. Brilliant!

Dawn Coder
Director, Academic Advising & Student Disability Services
The Pennsylvania State University, World Campus
[email protected]


Elkins, K. (2018, Oct. 12). Mark Cuban: ‘One of the most underrated skills in business right now is being nice.’ Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/12/mark-cuban-one-of-the-most-underrated-business-skills-is-being-nice.html

Van Valin, S. (2018, June 19). Will extreme PC be the death of healthy corporate culture? Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/extreme-pc-death-healthy-corporate-culture-steve-van-valin/

Williams, D. K. (2015, Jan. 5). Forgiveness: The least understood leadership trait in the workplace. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkwilliams/2015/01/05/forgiveness-the-least-understood-leadership-trait-in-the-workplace-2/#7f6f46d4b3f2

Cite this article using APA style as: Coder, D. (2019, March). Becoming a positive leader by using mutual goodwill: A concept of interacting positively with students, colleagues, and stakeholders. Academic Advising Today, 42(1). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2019 March 42:1


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