To exercise real influence, regardless of the situation, keep your intentions at the forefront of your conscious mind and listen for the intentions that drive others. You’ll need to be able to express these to exercise real influence.

John sat across the table from me. I was interviewing him to gather information to customize the interpersonal communication program for company directors in which he was to participate. He looked perplexed. Rubbing his forehead, he sighed, “Maybe you can tell me why I’m often told by others at staff meetings that I look disinterested in what’s going on.” Then he added, “And why people accuse me of being negative when I’m only trying to point out the potential hazards involved in moving forward on a project without proper investigation of the problems under discussion.”

Are you acting disinterested? Are you sounding negative?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “It’s just that some people at those meetings are long-winded. They blow a lot of hot air without substantial evidence to support their opinions. It takes them forever to say nothing. I’m so agitated by the time I finally get a word in edgewise, I probably sound negative. But I’m not. They just don’t realize that my intentions are positive. I’m only trying to make sure that the job is done right. Why can’t they see that my intentions are for the good of the company? You’d think I was the enemy.”

John was both hurt and baffled by others’ reactions to him. His intentions were positive, and yet no one else seemed to recognize it. This gave rise to feelings of frustration and a desire to withdraw from active participation at meetings. John was soon to discover something that would change his life and his power to influence: positive intentions, acknowledged and validated, put you in a position to influence.

If we could put human behavior under a magnifying glass, we’d see the intentions that direct people to act as they do.  Every behavior has a purpose, or a positive intent, that the behavior is trying to achieve, and there are four primary intents: 1) get it accomplished, 2) get it accurate, 3) get appreciated, and 4) get along. Our intent, however, can change, depending on our priorities.

For instance, some time ago I was asked to chair a committee that would select 50 presenters to speak at a national convention. The selections were to be made and turned in no later than March 1. My committee met on December 15 of the previous year and identified the 50 presenters we wanted. Because some had submitted program titles we felt lacked the emotional appeal necessary to attract convention-goers, we contacted them and asked them to please get back to us with another title.

In December, with plenty of time to get the job accomplished, I was very much motivated to get along with people. When pressed for more time to come up with a new title, I gladly granted it. When in the “get along with people” mode, we’re generally less assertive and put others needs and desires before our own.

However, by February 21 the deadline for turning in our program list was only two week away. Two people had not yet called with new titles, and I was beginning to feel pressured. My own motivation had changed to “get the task accomplished.” In this mode, I became more assertive and action-oriented. I contacted the two people and told them directly that I couldn’t wait any longer—that the title needed to be turned in promptly or they wouldn’t be in the program.

When in the “get it accurate mode,” we become more deliberate in our actions. We analyze, focus on the details of the task, and are slower to make a decision. This was the initial mode of our entire committee when selecting the presenters, wanting to be fair to all applicants, yet making sure we selected the right programs for the convention.

When in the “get appreciation” mode, we increase our level of assertiveness and our focus on people in order to be recognized by others. I exercised this mode just the other day when I emailed information to a friend about an educational program that I thought she would absolutely love. I told her that if she took the course, she would thank me for it later!

Intentions drive behaviors. Being aware of your own positive intentions and the positive intentions of others can eliminate unnecessary frustration that often leads to conflict, but only if you express those intentions.

Let’s return to my original example. John’s intentions may have been in the best interest of his company, but he didn’t take the time to recognize and express the validity of other people’s intentions. Had he done so, not only would his behavior have been more productive (active participation versus withdrawal), but he’d have been in a more powerful position to influence.

If John has simply said, “I understand that your intent is to get product out the door; we cannot keep our customers waiting if we want to keep our customers. I can appreciate that. My intent is to make sure that we get to the bottom of what is causing our product issues so that our customers are not unhappy once they receive the product.” He could then have presented his evidence of the number of customer complaints, lost customers, or the amount of returned product. A valid discussion of the bigger picture would have been possible once all understood that everyone was communicating from positive intentions. Problem solving instead of conflict would have been possible.

Before any meeting, here are three steps you can take to avoid unnecessary conflict and put yourself in a better position to exercise real influence:

1) Examine your own intentions, making sure they are positive.

2) Understand the positive intentions of others and express your understanding of those intentions.

3) Express your own intentions, along with evidence to support what you are advocating.

By following the three steps above, everyone becomes aware that all intentions are positive. Your willingness to actively listen, expressing the intentions of all, puts you in the driver’s seat as the one who sees the bigger picture, appreciates all points of view, and has solid evidence to support your recommendation.

Want to be your own best coach? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I aware of my intentions? Do I know when I am interested in getting it accomplished and the impact my behavior is having on others? Getting appreciated? Getting it accurate? Geting along?
  • Do I ever consider the intentions of the other guy?  If so, do I express and validate them?
  • If I were to make it a practice to understand and express others’ intentions, what impact might it have on the outcome of our interaction?
  • What could I do to heighten my awareness of my intent going into meetings where the risk of conflict is great?

Ian Percy wrote: “We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions.” Understanding and expressing our own intentions and those of others, puts us in a more positive light, better able to influence.

(c) Mary Jane Mapes 2015 All rights reserved.

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