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.

1. Teachers

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?

2. Parents

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.

3. Leader

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
  • Disengagement
  • Frustration
  • 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.