While communication involves our words and our nonverbal actions, underneath is our intention for entering into the conversation. Intention is powerful in directing our energy and guiding our underlying actions. An example of sensing a person’s intention can be found when buying a car. Sure, the salesperson is friendly and helpful . He or she smiles, looks you in the eye, asks how he or she can help you, yet you sense he or she doesn’t really care about what you want and just wants to make the sale. Compare this experience to one where you felt the salesperson had your best interests at heart and wanted to understand and meet your needs. Both salespeople may have said the same things and acted the same way, but the impact is very different based on their intention.
When our intention is not in alignment with what we communicate, seeds of distrust and conflict can grow or escalate. For example:
“My boss says he cares about helping me improve my performance yet I can see he just wants to get rid of me.”
“My peer says she wants my input on her project, yet she has already made up her mind and just wants me to affirm what she is already doing.”
Just wanting to have good intent in your communications is not enough. If our intention is mixed, camouflaged, or even unknown, the intention inadvertently shows up in our underlying actions and energy. One of the first steps in building trust and reducing conflict is clarifying your intention before having the conversation. Here are some questions to ask yourself before having an important conversation:
- What am I thinking about the situation and the other person?
- What kind of emotional energy surfaces when I think about having this conversation?
- What is my motivation for having this conversation? What do I want to happen?
- Where am I on the “Intention Barometer”? Is the barometer leaning toward building or eroding goodwill? Am I giving this person the benefit of the doubt to reach an understanding and hear their ideas? Or, am I trying to prove I am right, win the argument, and/or make this person change?
- If I am leaning toward eroding goodwill, what would help me shift my intention toward building goodwill?
Clarifying your intention provides the foundation for preparing and communicating your message. In addition, remembering your goodwill intention during the conversation can help keep you grounded in the moment.