How Can I Handle Competing Intentions?

I got to spend some time last week with a wonderful team of people doing incredibly cool work. We were talking about my favorite topic: intentional communication!

This team has chosen to really engage with the idea of intention, and to work it into their culture. In fact, they begin meetings by asking what intentions people have.

A great question arose in our conversation: “What do I do if I’ve prepared a deliberate intention, and someone else has an intention that is opposed to it?”

I have never heard this question before. One aspect of the question that I love is that it brings to light a dynamic that is, of course, going on All. The. Time. Usually, though, these intentions are running underneath the conversation, unacknowledged.

I come with the intention to get you excited about my project so you’ll join the team; you come with the intention to say no.  

If I keep trying to sell you on how cool my project is, and you keep telling me how busy you are, we’re both getting more entrenched in our own position. 

The push and pull of these dynamics can leave each person feeling unheard or misunderstood. If I think my project is the greatest thing ever, and all I hear is you saying you can’t take on anything else, that might damage our relationship. Seen from the other perspective, if you can’t get me to listen to the fact that you’re already swamped, and though my project sounds cool, you just don’t have the bandwidth right now, you may feel dismissed.

The point of deliberate intention isn’t to bully the other person into coming around, but to provide a foundation for our own approach to the discussion, and to make sure we’re taking care of the relationships involved. 

If we’re working in a culture that allows us to state the underlying intention, we can get right to the point. 

“I’m really excited about this project, and I’m hoping to get you on board.”

“I love the idea, and right now I can’t contribute meaningfully.”

Now there’s an open space where each person feels heard. Maybe there’s a compromise. Maybe there’s a way you can take part in a later phase. Maybe you want to be our biggest cheerleader from afar. Maybe I can delay the project until you can take part. Maybe we simply part friends and colleagues, with you protecting your time and me not getting your participation.

All of these outcomes are productive, since we’ve protected the working relationship.

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