Intentions are like plans, strategies to get what we want from our behaviours and our conversations. They are derived from our beliefs, emotions and past experiences and they have strong influence on the course of our conversations and how we respond. They often remain hidden within our subconscious and we are mostly unaware of them and their impact.
What are some examples of intentions and how they influence the conversations we have?
In this article we will explore intentions from the perspective of three common roles.
There would be many teachers who have the intention of teaching students to a set standard and many of us would be satisfied with such an intention.
How could such an intention impact the conversations teachers have with students?
Teachers develop the skills and the authority to teach students. They understand what students must learn, when and how. It is their job. The problem arises when the students don’t want to learn that way or don’t know how.
These students challenge the teacher’s intention to teach and so the teachers may resort to telling, selling, & yelling to try and get the students to learn. The teacher can become so determined in getting the student to learn that the pressure forces the student to react becoming defensive and resistant, and they shutdown their ability to learn.
What does the teacher do now?
Their intention is still to teach students and so it is highly likely that they will do more of what they know. They continue with the same conversation patterns of telling, selling, & yelling further eroding the level of trust and respect. Little learning is achieved, and a lot of trust and respect is lost.
What if a teacher’s intention was different?
What if their intention wasn’t to teach but to lay a foundation of trust in the class, creating a place for students to experiment, learn, fail, and co-create solutions?
What would the impact be?
Many parents lament of their teenage children; their behavior, lack of interest in the family, and their desire to disobey and argue. They just want the child to change.
Almost every parent wants to raise good kids and to give them the best life possible. However, they often add an intention or two around this such as “do as I say”, or “mummy knows best”, or even ‘be my best friend”.
What happens when the teenager rebels?
Parents can feel threatened, confronted, and start to judge and criticize the child. Their conversations become protective and defensive. They can stop listening to the child and not being open to influence. The relationship between parent and child destabilises.
What could a better intention be for parents? Here are two suggestions
- I want to create a home that is a safe space for my children to explore and develop
- I want my children to know that they belong in this family, they are valued, and they are loved
If a parent was to have one of these as their intention, what would their conversations be like with the teenager?
Parents would come from a perspective of accepting and appreciating rather than dismissing and judging. There would be more questions and less talking. A child will feel respected and listened to.
Finally let’s look at the intentions of a leader.
If you are a leader, what is the intention you have for your team?
Here are some examples of intentions that I have received when asking my clients
- Deliver on time and on budget
- Meet KPI’s / strategic plan
- Do more with less
- Be the best we can
- Be a high performing team
Each of these will have a very different impact on the conversations you have with your people. Their impact will be widespread affecting business systems, culture and the profitability of the company.
The first three intentions, listed above, could see team members less as people and more as objects that get work done. The conversations focus more on productivity, costs, budgets, and performance and less on aspirations, individual development and creativity. Meetings are often places where intentions clash and impacts are readily observed.
What are some of the costs of these types of intentions?
- Increased stress and overwhelm
- Resistance to change
- Minimal creativity
- Risk aversion
The fourth in the list “to do the best you can” is a safe intention that doesn’t inspire greatness or growth. Being your best can create a mindset of defeat or denial as you will always have an excuse (we’re all doing the best we can). The conversations tend to lack accountability, commitment, and responsibility creating a culture that can be suffocating.
The final intention in the list; to be a high performing team, opens the mind up for new possibilities.
What does a high performing team look like/feel like/work like? What needs to be done differently? How will it work? What is possible? What barriers will we face? What will be our vision? How will we get there?
The conversations boost energy levels and are co-creative forming a way of working better together and being united under a common vision. The focus is on development, creativity, and aspiration which underpins the achievement of KPI’s etc. The conversations are supportive not judging, they are about growth not dismissal, and they keep the team progressing forward together.
This article considers intentions from three different perspectives, that of a teacher, parent, and leader. Whilst intentions can come from a good place within us, their impact may not align well. Becoming aware of our intentions, particularly if we are having an important conversation will prompt you consider what you want to say and how. These few moments can mean the difference between a positive and a negative impact.
Every conversation we have will be underpinned by an intention. Every intention will have an impact.
During your next conversation, take a moment to check what your intention is and check whether the impact is aligned
When we change our conversation, we change worlds.
Last Sunday I lost one of my true best friends to cancer. She was my coach, confidante, teacher, and mentor. I say this and yet we had never met in person.
The conversations we had were always positive and inspiring. She never sugar coated the truth and instead spoke about it in a way that was helpful and not fearful. She was able to lift my mindset from searching for threat, to thinking about possibility and discovery.
Her skill was in asking great questions.
My friend’s legacy for me is to spread the importance of having healthy and courageous conversations. The conversations that engage, excite, and connect us. Whilst they can also be challenging and uncomfortable, their intention is always to build trust and relationships.
It doesn’t matter if you are talking in a meeting, to a client, or with a team member, if your intention is, first and foremost, to build the trust and the relationship it will completely change the nature of what you say and how you say it.
Try it and observe what happens.
Normally we are unaware of our intentions when we engage in conversations. Our intention could be to win the argument, to influence someone to your way of thinking or, to change their behavior. When we don’t get what we want from the conversation we blame the other person and tend to judge them negatively. Sadly, the fault is all ours because we don’t have the skills or the how-to to hold a better conversation.
When I coach clients, our most engaging conversations focus on building awareness into their conversational patterns. This is an area very few of us have a lot of insight. My clients learn how changing these patterns will bring about significant improvements in how they interact with others.
This isn’t easy work, change is hard for everyone. It takes courage, effort and practice. The results however, come quickly.
Many of my clients are technical and engineering professionals, and I’ve seen how these insights and discoveries have had a profound effect on their ability to influence and motivate others.
They can soon see that everything happens through conversation.
The impact my friend has had on global corporations, children, leaders, and me is phenomenal and cannot go unrecognized.
And she has done this all through the power of conversation.
Mastery of conversations is one of the rare skills that transcends religion, race, culture and language.
Rest in Peace Judith
Every day most companies will experience some level of conflict and very little of it will be good or healthy conflict. Workplace conflict is mostly disruptive and conflict management takes up a lot of time and effort. It might be overt such as people struggling with a “Personality Clash” or, it could be covert, bubbling to the surface as back stabbing and workplace gossip. Conflict like this erodes relationships, cultures, and trust.
Conflict management is difficult and unpleasant.
So, can conflict be good?
Is there such a thing as healthy conflict management?
Conflict is simply a situation where two or more people have strong views.
“It is normal and natural for conflict to arise in all aspects of our lives.”
Good healthy conflict can also be called robust conversations and debating. Knowing how to navigate tough conversations is essential in effective conflict management.
How often have you experienced robust conversations? Can you recall how good conflict can feel?
Conflict can be inspiring, it can make you think deeply and force you to consider different perspectives. Good conflict nurtures us, challenges us, and keeps us learning.
Sadly, the conflict we are most familiar with happens because our conversations leave us assuming, judging, and misunderstanding. We listen to our inner voice rather than seeking clarity and meaning from others. We put our own opinions and ideas ahead of others and we listen only to confirm what we already know. As a result many of us see conflict as threatening, personal, and something to be avoided.
However it is unhealthy conversations that create unhealthy conflict.
“Conflict in itself is not unhealthy.”
Our fear networks can be triggered by our words and our conversations and this can override our rational and creative thinking. We turn our thinking inwards and resort to protective behaviours such as denying, criticism, and judgment. We are not open to influence and we stop listening when we are triggered.
One of the most valuable life and leadership skills we can gain is self awareness. When we are aware of what triggers us and/or when we feel that we are being triggered, we can learn to override this. Through conscious awareness we can engage our rational thinking and our curiosity, changing the nature and energy of the conversation. We have the power to turn an unhealthy conversation into healthy conflict by changing our words.
Healthy conflict management strategies
So what are some healthy conflict management strategies?
The very first step to creating good healthy conflict is providing people with the understanding, skills, and know how, for holding difficult conversations. When people have the conversational skills to deal with issues, and the know how to work together to co-create outcomes, the fear networks are less likely to be triggered.
The second step is building trust. Our brains are open to engaging and sharing with others when we feel trust. Good healthy conflict can move the conversation into the unknown and this can cause people to feel uncomfortable or vulnerable and so the environment must be respectful and supportive. The magic of this form of conflict are in the co-created outcomes that no one has thought of before.
Finally, have some guidelines or rules so that people understand the framework for healthy conflict. These guidelines will help guide the process, ensuring a respectful, engaging conversation even when it becomes tense and stressful.
Good healthy conflict results in high quality solutions and better decisions. This isn’t about win/lose, conceding or concessions. It is about being comfortable with the unknown and co-creating great things using the best strong minds. The energy may be tense and passion may be exposed however when conflict is healthy our brains do what they are designed to do: to think creatively, to draw on insight, and to discover new ways of connecting.
Conflict isn’t bad, it’s the conversations that cause it to be so.
Therefore all conflict management strategies are really about changing the conversation.