On August 24, I wrote about some ways to handle competing intentions that might surface on your team. In that situation, you’re all working to be intentional communicators, but people have different priorities.
Today, let’s think about what happens when you don’t have the luxury of a shared vocabulary around intention. For example, you’re preparing for a meeting with a client. Your deliberate, productive intention is to ally yourself with them around challenges on a project. You’re ready to work together to find a great new plan.
The meeting begins, and it’s immediately clear that the client came with the intention to make this setback your fault. Uh oh. Now your productive intention puts you at risk of being the scapegoat for this whole mess. Now what?
When you realize that someone else is feeling combative, it’s natural to move into a default intention that counters that feeling of threat. If you become defensive, however, you probably won’t be able to forge any kind of connection, and you certainly won’t be moving forward productively. You’re going to have to shift in the moment to a different, still deliberate, intention.
In these cases, people often want to be heard. You don’t want to take responsibility for something you didn’t do, but you also don’t want to deny that the client is experiencing a problem. You might choose the intention to listen in order to understand.
Reflect back to them that you are hearing what they’re saying. Acknowledge what you can, and try not to correct them. For the moment, your intention is to listen, and not to try to get to your own agenda. Remember that you can have a follow-up conversation when they’re feeling less upset.
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