It’s the intention that matters.
Being a news junkie, I’m glued to the cable networks. Wedged between the peccadilloes of badly behaving starlets and inappropriately tweeted photos, the anchor brings in two political panelists to discuss the upcoming election (Already? Really? Oy!) To feign “balance” he has a GOP strategist and his Democratic counterpart (as if there are only two sides to a story – but don’t get me started). I don’t remember the first question, and frankly, it doesn’t matter; but what I do recall was once the argument commenced, it became animated without delay. Lots of energy and of course, disagreement, exchanged between the duo.
It could have been either one; but in this case it was the GOP guy who started “powering” over anything stated contrary to his position. When the Dem countered, the Repub would shout him down, yelling ever louder. He didn’t call names; he wasn’t condescending; and – to be honest – he made logical sense (although I disagreed). But this is not about politics.
After the “discussion” ended, I had a mental image of him talking to his friends off-camera. They were probably all high-fiving, shouting, “Wow! You blew him out of the water,” or “He couldn’t hold a candle to you.” Congratulations would abound; backslapping would ensue.
That’s when it dawned on me; his intention – as far as I could discern – was NEVER to have a discussion, but rather to prove his point; and that’s what showed.
The number one law of change: Intentions direct actions.
When a client asks for advice, my first reply has become: “What’s your intention?” Almost nothing matters more in one’s actions or communications than understanding that unassuming question. Unfortunately, most of us do not take the time to dig deep enough to analyze that. The result is we find ourselves in a most unhappy place.
Let’s take a simple example. You’re upset by someone else’s comments. Your feelings are hurt. So, you decide that you “need to talk to her.” That’s fair; and if done well, it’s even “healthy.” But if the intention of what you’re trying to achieve isn’t clear to her, you’ll get in hot water. If the intention is to “give her a piece of your mind,” your communication will be much different than if it is to better understand what she meant, or to heal a rift. If you are looking to minimize the chance of conflict and actually accomplishing something, slow down long enough to understand the intention (preferably BEFORE opening your mouth; but it’s never too late).
This is because attitude transmits louder than words. A popular study went so far as to say that what we say accounts for less than ten percent of our communication; it’s tone and body language (attitude) that matter most. In effect, we might be able to massage what we say, but it’s a heck of a lot harder to mask what we feel.
We can apply this same principle to our own actions.
When trying to change a habit, it’s imperative to first analyze what is the intention of the offending behavior. What does it get us by continuing it – and what is the resultant cost? Once we realize why we we’re doing it —our intentions — our next question can be “How do we achieve those goals without the unpleasant side effects?”
Every behavior is born of positive intention; one designed to make our lives easier. Unfortunately, if we don’t look beneath and understand those intentions, we can create a mess, even if that wasn’t what was intended.