Talking Better Together by Clarifying Intentions

What do you want to accomplish at work or in your community? Who do you need to work with to get it done? What’s the most effective way to interact with them to achieve your goal?

You prime how you interact with others by clarifying your intention towards them. Is your intention simply to look good, appear smart, and dazzle people with your brilliance?  Is it to convince them of the rightness of your goal and how they should help? Or, is your intention to share your idea as an idea and engage with others to refine and develop it so the idea is not just yours but “ours”?

These intentions differ and prime us to behave differently. If my intention is to impress, convince, or cajole, I will talk more than I listen. If my intention is to inspire interest and engagement to move a cause forward, I will inquire more and advocate less. Our intention towards others either helps or undermines our ability to interact effectively with others.

Priming refers to preparing or influencing others or us to respond in a particular way. Priming occurs through words, images, or an entire environment that evokes, facilitates, or inhibits particular body sensations, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

We create an environment inside us through our intentions that in turn influences what we say, the tone in which we say it, and our gestures. Our internal environment then primes that of others and influences how they behave.

If your intention is to convince or cajole

  • your muscles might feel tense or constricted;
  • your emotions might be more volatile (i.e., you get frustrated or angry more easily and quickly);
  • you might think of other people as “the other” or objects to be pushed on rather than human beings with whom you are interacting;
  • your words, tone, and gestures will likely be more stiff or aggressive (e.g., pointing fingers, hitting a table as you speak).

If you have power over the others you are trying to convince, then you are more likely to create resistant compliance than full-hearted commitment to accomplishing what you want to accomplish.

If your intention is to generate interest and collaborate with others

  • you are more likely to feel relaxed
  • your emotions might be calmer (i.e., you are less likely to get afraid or angry);
  • you might engage with others as fellow human beings through listening and learning how to strengthen the initial idea;
  • your words, tone and gestures will be softer, more inviting (e.g., extending open hands towards others to invite them to speak).

I have framed these intentions as polar opposites. Your intentions are probably somewhere in between these two. It is important to know what your intentions are because they prime you to interact with others in certain ways and determine whether you are effective or not. In other words, your intentions towards others influences whether you will accomplish what you hope to accomplish.

This blog draws on my forthcoming book Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time.Click here to leave your email address and we will notify you when the book becomes available this Fall. 

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