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An important skill to master is understanding and using the “Intent” of the communication.

This skill includes an understanding of everyone’s intentions. Not just yours.

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

The effectiveness of the communication is directly tied to the extent to which the “intentions” of all the parties align. 

Let me give you an example. 

Let’s say you need directions to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and two things are true:

  • You don’t speak French. 
  • And the person you are asking doesn’t speak your language. 

Getting enough information to get to the Eiffel Tower is possible if the person you’re asking wishes to give you directions. 

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

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

And to make it worse, if the other person intends to keep you from seeing the Eiffel Tower, the chances you will get to it are greatly reduced, approaching ZERO.  

In formal business and political settings, we can solve this problem of shared intentions by setting an agenda.

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

However, setting formal intentions takes too much work for most interpersonal settings. Many of the intentions have to be implied and inferred.

Finding a way to set clear intentions is important for effective communication despite the difficulties.

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

In some formal settings, the intentions of the parties are implied. When ordering at a restaurant, 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 delivered.

Please note that I try to be very clear with my intent in this eGuide in the Chapter on “Learning Objectives.” I describe my Intent in putting this eGuide together with as much clarity as possible.

Knowing my intent makes you more likely to learn what I am trying to teach.

Find Shared Intent

One of the most critical challenges in finding shared intent is that, at any given time, we will have multiple intentions. 

The skill you need to master is to figure out which one of your “intentions” you should share with the other communicators and which one of your “intentions” you should consider in constructing your messages. 

Let’s say I am ordering dinner. I might have an intention to impress my date with my choices. I don’t need to share that intention with the server.

However, let’s say I intend to lose weight. I might share that with the server because I feel the server could provide useful information. I might say, I’m trying to lose weight; what are the “low-calorie options” on the menu? 

Or I might not say anything because I don’t think the server can help me make the decisions I need to order and lose weight simultaneously.

Look for Win-Win by Understanding Intentions

In the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey

Thinking “Win-Win” isn’t about being nice or 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 any more. We all play the game, but how much fun is it?

Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart constantly seeking 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!

Finding the Win-Win in any situation is a very important skill to master. And is based on an understanding of everyone’s intentions.

Steps in Understanding Intentions

  • Understand Your Needs
  • Understand Your Intentions
  • Understand the other communicators’ Needs
  • Understand the other communicator’s Intentions.

Step 1 – Understand Your Needs

Needs drive Intentions

First, you need to understand your needs at that moment.

This takes “honesty.” 

For many reasons, it might be difficult to be honest with ourselves. 

So, the skill is to be honest with ourselves about ourselves.

The more honest you are with yourself, the greater the chance for success. 

The best way to be honest with ourselves is to understand that everyone has pretty much the same needs. So, if you see the need in someone else, there is a good chance you have similar needs. Or if you see the need in yourself, there is a good chance others have similar needs.

In the ’50s, Abraham Maslow came up with what he called the “hierarchy of human needs.”

1) Physiological: food, water, housing, 

2) Safety/security: protection, 

3) Belongingness and Love: relationships

4) Esteem: be attractive

5) Cognitive: to think

6) Aesthetic: pleasing

7) Self-actualization: to be happy with oneself.

8) Self-transcendence: to build a better community and network.

Let’s use our example of ordering food.

When you order food, what is the need you are solving?

If you are on a date, the need might be #4 – Esteem. You don’t really care about the food; it is more about impressing someone.

However,  the need is clearly #1 – Physiological if you’re hungry.

Here is the tricky part: you could have more than one need at a time.

You could be both hungry and wanting to impress someone. 

I think it is possible that you could have all 7 of Maslow’s needs at one time.

The skill, then, is to be able to prioritize those needs.

Understandably, being honest is hard in terms of our needs.

Step 2 – Understand the Needs of Others

In addition to understanding our own needs, the more you can understand the needs of others, the greater the likelihood of communication success.

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.

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

If a tennis tournament was a winner-take-all, very few people would be 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 they had to distribute the prize money to the participants.

Sports have figured out that giving all the prize money to only one person would not meet everyone’s needs. 

“Winning” doesn’t have to be “Winning Everything.” “Winning” can often be just “Winning Enough!”

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 disincentive to participate. In communication, you make a series of micro-decisions. 

First, you have to try and understand what the other person wants. 

You should try to understand what their intention is in the communication.

Then, you must think about how to help the other person win.

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 “Intent” skill you need is figuring out how to measure the attainment of your Intention. 

Most of the time, this is pretty easy.  

Again, using a dining example. If I intend to have a good dining experience, I should be able to easily measure if I had a good dining experience or not. 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 means you should set your intention to be measurable.

This is actually where many folks fail. They set an intent but cannot 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 and don’t want to change it, don’t worry about achieving it.

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

If you cannot measure the success of your intention and don’t want to change it, 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. However, you cannot measure your success in gaining that market segment. Then, don’t go after that market segment until you determine how to measure your success in getting that market.