Intent Demystified

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This blog is a part of a series about the communication model – Intent, Action and Effect. Today we’re tackling intent, to see the others visit here.

A friend of mine (we’ll call her Shannon) always tells a story when talking about intent. Shannon was having lunch with a few friends in her workplace and she made a joke. After sharing a few laughs and some food with friends, lunch break was over and they returned to their desk. A while later, one of the friends that was at the lunch break, came over to Shannon and made a snide remark about something Shannon was working on. “Whoa” thought Shannon, and after gaining some inner peace, went over to her friend and asked her why she would make such a hurtful comment. As it turns out, her friend was extremely offended by the joke that Shannon had said at lunch and it bothered her so much that she felt she needed to seek her own justice.

intent-effect Intent is in the private realm. It can be described as the purpose or reason someone did what they did (action). Intent is a little tricky since it’s hard to be sure of someone else’s intent, especially if there is a lack of trust within that context. In the story above, Shannon’s intent was likely to make her friends laugh and start a conversation. However, her friend didn’t take the joke the same way as Shannon had originally intended it and she thought (in her mind) that the joke was a dig at her and had meant to offend her.
We often assume intent based on our experience of the action. In other words, if we experience what someone did or said to us in a negative way, we often tend to assume that the person did so intentionally. Through the lens of our experiences, heritage, education, up-bringing, etc., we interpret the action of others.

So what can we do with this?

Whenever we are having these difficult conversations and debriefing our experiences around someone else’s actions, it is important for us to bring our intent into the public realm. If we’re the one that experienced the action, then it’s equally important to ask questions around the other person’s intent. We may not agree with someone else’s intent, but that’s not up to us to decide. We can’t control someone else’s behaviour, but we can choose how we are going to respond to it. The longer we keep intent in the private realm, the bigger the recipe we are concocting for miscommunication.
So how do we bring intent into the public realm instead of snowballing in the private realm? If we’re on the receiving end of an action, then we need to ask questions. “When you did _______, could you speak a little more about your intent behind that?” If you’re on the giving end of an action, you can speak into your intent. “My intent behind ________ was to…”
This is great when we are talking with one another, but often we build up someone else’s intent while we’re sitting in our cubicle stewing about what someone else had done. So before you run wild with your imagination, ask yourself, what are possible intentions of the other person? Is there a possibility that their intent had nothing to do with me?

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