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Communication Model 1-27-22
Focus on Intent
This Lesson helps you learn the skills needed to "Focus on Intent" when communicating. In almost all cases every party to the communication has a different intention.  The effectiveness of the communication is directly tied to the extent the “intentions” of all the parties aline.  Updated Feb 2024.

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Ira Gorelick

First Published

May 4, 2022


Learning Blockchain

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Focus On Intent – Key Points

– The most important skill I would like to teach you is to learn to focus on the “Intent” of communication.  And more specifically, focus on both your intent and the other person’s intent.

– The effectiveness of the communication is enhanced to the extent that the “intentions” of all the parties are in sync and in harmony.

Focus on Intent Overview

In almost all cases, every party to the communication has a different intention. 

Sometimes, the differences are huge and significant.

Sometimes, the differences are small and insignificant.

If the differences get large enough and the parties cannot adjust for the differences, poor communication will result.  

Just like a band, the quality of the music is a function of how much the band members are in sync and in harmony.  

The actual effectiveness of communication is directly dependent on the extent to which all the parties of the communication have synced their “intentions.”

Let me give you an example.   

Let’s say you need directions to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and you don’t speak French.

You stop someone on the street, and they don’t speak your language. 

If the person you’re asking wishes to give you directions, it’s possible to actually get enough information to get to the Eiffel Tower. 

Even though you don’t speak the same language, you and they could muddle through it enough with pointing and some known words.

However, if that person is not that interested in spending the time to give you directions, chances are you will not get directions or will not get good enough directions to achieve your intent to see the Eiffel Tower.

In formal settings, we can solve this by setting an agenda. 

In educational situations, we use a Syllabus and Learning Objectives.

The more everyone has the same intention, the more likely your goal will be achieved. 

In some formal settings, the intentions of the parties are implied, like ordering at a restaurant. When ordering, the intentions are implied that the diner wants food, and the server wishes to bring them food.  The only unknown is the specific food the diner wants.

If you know my intention, you are more likely to learn what I am trying to teach.

If I know your intention, I am more likely to teach what you are most likely to learn. 

The greatest learning will happen if we both understand each other’s intention in teaching and learning.

Find Shared Intent 

One of the most critical challenges is finding “shared intent” because, at any given time, there will always be multiple intentions. This is not unusual. Most systems have multiple forces working. 

The skill you need to master is to figure out which one of your “intentions” should be shared with others and which of yours should be “primary.”  In your Focus on Intent, you need to develop the skill to figure out others’ intentions in the relationship.

Let’s say I am ordering dinner. And let’s say I have two intentions: 1) to eat and 2) to lose weight.

The question is: do I share the intention to lose weight with the server? 

Unless I feel the server could provide useful information, there is no reason to share that intention with the server. 

The server just needs to know what I want to eat; they don’t need to know the entire backstory.

I might not say anything about my wanting to lose weight because I don’t think the server can help me make the decision as to what to order.

But, then again, the Server may have information useful to help me achieve my intention of losing weight.

So, I might say, I’m trying to lose weight, what are the “low-calorie options” on the menu. 

Basic Intentions for Everyone

There are two broad and basic “intentions” in communication: Building the “Network” and Completing a “Transaction.”

Transactional Intention

A traditional view of communication is called “transactional.”  The “Intention” of the communication is to achieve some transaction: buy something, learn something, or teach something.

The Transactional Model of Communication is most often referred to as the “Transmission” Model of Communication developed by Claude Shannon.

Shannon Transmission Model of Communication

Shannon Transmission Model of Communication

This intention is very straightforward. We communicate to achieve a goal. Ordering food is a great example. Your intention is to get food, and the server’s intention is to bring you food. Or any shopping. Your intention is to buy something, and the seller’s intention is to sell something.  

This also applies to “Machine-to-Machine” communication.  The thermostat sends a message to the heater to turn it on. It is a simple transaction.  (There are a lot of lessons on this topic. )

Building the Network Intention

Shortly after Shannon published his foundational work, we started to look at mass communication, and we noticed that there is a lot of communication that DOES NOT seem intended to achieve some specific task. 

Rather, we noticed that there is a lot of Communication that serves just one intention to maintain the stability of the Network itself.  James Carey labeled this the Ritual Model of Communication
The ritual model of communication is a communications theory proposed by James W. Carey. 

Ritual Communication

Ritual Communication

A ritual view of communication holds that we communicate not just to pass information but, more importantly, as a way to maintain our communities.
The Ritual model of communication suggests that connecting with others is as important, or more important, than what we might connect about.
The Ritual model of communication conceives communication as a process that enables and enacts societal transformation.
Carey defines the ritual view, particularly in terms of sharing, participation, association, and fellowship.
In addition, Carey acknowledges that commonness, communion, and community naturally correspond with the ritual view.
In a similar way, the term “ritual” holds religious connotations. For Carey, this connection to religion helps to emphasize the concept of shared beliefs and “ceremony” that is fundamental to the ritual view.
In contrast to the ritual view, Carey presents what he considers the more commonly recognized “transmission” view of communication.  The @learning Network uses Shannon as the representative of the Transmission Model.

In thinking about this “Ritual” view of communication, perhaps because I worked in the Phone Company for 40 years, I see this as “Building the Network.” 

There needs to be a network before there can be communication. Just like there must be roads in order to exchange goods, there needs to be a network to exchange information. Building that network then becomes as important as the transaction the communicators wish to transact.

In some situations and in some cultures, building a network is much more important than any transaction.  We recently moved into a new neighborhood.  They are having a neighborhood party.  I will go to the party with the intention of building connections with my new neighbors. I have no intention of conducting any transaction with them. I don’t want anything from them other than to build a connection, so if I need to conduct a transaction in the future, the network will be there.

Look for Win-Win by Understanding Intentions

In his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey says, 

Think Win-Win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration.

Most of us learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We think about succeeding in terms of someone else failing—if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. Life becomes a zero-sum game. There is only so much pie to go around, and if you get a big piece, there is less for me; it’s not fair, and I’m going to make sure you don’t get anymore. We all play the game, but how much fun is it really?

Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good!

Being able to find the Win-Win in any situation is a very important skill to master.

First, you have to try to understand what the other person wants and what their intention is in the communication.

Then you have to think about giving something up, if necessary, so the other person wins some.

I happened to go to the French Open Tennis website, and they listed the prize money. Tennis, like most other sports, has figured out that a “winner-take-all” approach to prize money will not work.

If a tennis tournament were a winner-take-all, then there would be very few people willing to participate because, in Tennis, the Top players are the top players because they usually win, so there would be little or no incentive for a “non-top player” to play.

So, sports figured out that they had to distribute the prize money to the participants.

In communication, as in other aspects of life, you want people to take risks and push themselves to improve. However, in communication, as in other aspects of life, as the risk goes up, the incentives must go up, otherwise there is a dis-incentive to participate.

Let’s take the example of going out to dinner again.

The server wants a tip. You want a good dining experience. A win-win would be if the server gives you a good dining experience and you give the server a tip.

Here is a link to a video from Stephen Covey on His 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The reference to “win-win” is in Habit #4 at 2:58-3:56 in the video.

Making Your Intent Your Measure of Success

Another skill you need to master to Master Communication is figuring out how to measure the attainment of your Intention.

Most of the time, that is pretty easy.    

Again, using a dining example. If my intention is to have a good dining experience, I should be able to easily measure that I had a good dining experience. I should be able to easily say, YES, I had a good dining experience.

Understanding that you need to measure the achievement of your intent, you should set your intention so that it is measurable.

This is actually where many folks fail. They set an intent but have no way to measure if they ever achieve it.

Actions if you cannot easily measure the achievement of your intention

Action #1 – Change your intention

If you cannot measure the success of your intention, then you might want to change your intention to something that can be measured.

Action #2 – Don’t Worry about achieving your intention

If you cannot measure the success of your intention, then don’t worry about it one way or the other.

Action #3 – Wait until you can find a way to measure your intention

If you cannot measure the success of your intention, then you might want to wait until you can find a way to measure your success in achieving your intention.

Let’s say you wish to add a new market segment to your marketing. But, you have no way to measure your success in gaining that market segment. Then, don’t go after that market segment until you figure out a way to measure your success in getting that market.

Having the Intention to be Polite

Part of the skill of Focusing on intent is focusing on your intention to be polite.

In communication, it should be fundamental that, independent of any other intention you may have, you try to be polite.