We see only behavior, never intentions.
Perhaps one of the greatest barriers to great relationships and high trust in the workplace is mis-understood intentions. And the reason for this is simple. We cannot see intentions, we only see behavior, or hear words. Many times the behaviors are mis-understood because we come from different behavioral styles. The words can be mis-understood because they are taken out of context. Humans are really messy creatures when it comes to communication.
Back to intentions. Have you ever been mis-understood? Have you ever hurt someone by something you did, or did not do, because they mis-understood the real intention behind the behavior? I have had the privilege of coaching a number of folks in management or executive positions and often find that their intentions are appropriate, even admirable, but the way the behavior is interpreted leads to mis-understanding. They might be a person of few words and make decisions for the good of the organization but don’t take the time to explain the thinking that went on to come to that decision. This leads to second guessing, and sometimes hurt feelings, if the decision has a short term negative side to it. And, in many cases, diminished trust.
As a person who is analytical, and somewhat introverted, I often do things that may not make sense to those around me merely because I did not take the time, or make the effort, to preface my actions with more words.
A number of years ago a client organization was in the process of rolling out a series of changes that would affect many people in the company. They decided to hold an employee meeting to announce the changes. Due to the number of employees, they scheduled two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Trying to be efficient, the presentation was designed to be brief and present just the facts of the changes. Without presenting the reasoning behind the changes, the morning session resulted in many questions from the audience and the meeting took much longer than anticipated. During the break between the morning and afternoon sessions the presentation was changed and included much more of the background information. The afternoon session was much shorter with almost no questions from the audience.
In one-to-one interactions behavioral style is often the issue. A reflective person takes time to weigh the pros and cons of a decision and a highly active, fast-paced person begins to get annoyed because the decision is taking so long. A simple choice of what to eat when the menu is long can easily set up such a situation. Or, a highly verbal person goes on and on telling a more reserved team member ALL of their thinking process, and the people they interacted with, before they announce a decision. The quiet team member has tuned them out and begins thinking about the next item on their to-do list.
These differences in behavioral style are often just minor annoyances and present situations in which we can practice understanding. But what if the highly active, fast paced team leader announces a decision with little background information as they are passing someone in the hallway? And what if that team member was counting on a different decision? Even if, in the long run, the unexpected decision is really the best for all involved, the team member will often feel hurt and perhaps betrayed.
We live in a fast-paced world. Add to that a behavioral style that is naturally fast-paced or one that is highly analytical, or highly verbal. The result is different perspectives on the same situation or decision. If we don’t dig into the real intentions behind behavior we often come away with mis-understandings that diminish trust.
The solution? Easier said than done. It is a never ending, time consuming, process of communication. Asking for more information when you are the receiver and taking the time to provide more information when you are the deliverer of a decision or an action. The more this happens, the more we begin to believe that those we work with are much like us. They want positive outcomes and healthy relationships. As do we.