Top Ten Interpersonal Skills -2- Assume Positive Intent

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Top Ten Interpersonal Skills -2- Assume Positive Intent

July 31, 2009 Life Skills Persuasion Popular 5

I’m blogging about the Top Ten Interpersonal Communication Skills I’ve learned in my life.

Number 2

In my last post, I talked about learning to make useful assumptions.  My second lesson learned is a particularly useful assumption about people.  It’s based on my observation that  people do what they do for a good reason.  Even the worst behaviors serve a purpose the person considers a good one.  People engage in behaviors based on their intent, and do what they do based on what seems to be most important in any given moment.

I’ve identified at four general positive intentions that determine how people will communicate in any given situation. While these are obviously not the only intentions motivating behavior, I believe that they represent a general frame of reference in which practically all other intents can be located. These four intents are:

1. Get it done – the need for action

2. Get it right – the need for accuracy

3. Get along – the need for connection

4. Get appreciation – the need for recognition

Just as people choose what to wear from a variety of clothing styles (such as formal-wear, office-wear, or weekend-wear), so people choose from a variety of behaviors that are situationally dependent. You may have a favorite shirt or pair of pants, and you may also have a behavioral style that you prefer. But rather than having one behavioral style all the time, your behavior changes as your priorities change. You may find it helpful to identify these four intents in yourself, and recognize their connection to your own behavior in various types of situations. This will make them easier to observe and understand in others.

1. Get It Done

Have you ever needed to get something done, finished, and behind you? If you need to get it done, you focus on the task at hand.  Your awareness of other people is peripheral, or limited to that which is necessary to accomplish the task.  You tend to speed up rather than slow down, to act rather than deliberate, to assert rather than withdraw.   Perceive a threat to this intent and you are likely to become careless and agressive, leaping before you look, and speaking without thinking first.

2. Get It Right

Have you ever sought to avoid a mistake by doing everything possible to prevent it from happening? Getting it right is a task-focused intent that influences behavior.  When getting it right is your highest priority, you will slow things down in order to see the details, then probably take a good, long look before leaping, if you ever leap at all. You may even refuse to take action because of a particular doubt about the consequences.  Under stress, this intention leads to verbalized negativity of whining and hopelessness.

3. Get Along

Another intent behind behavior is the intent to get along with people. This is necessary if you want to create and develop relationships. When there are people with whom you want to get along, you may be less assertive as you put their needs above your own. If getting along is your top priority and someone asks where you would like to go for lunch, you might respond, “Where would you like to go?” They may want to get along too and say, “Wherever you like. Are you hungry?” To which you might respond, “Are you hungry?” It’s not like you don’t know if you’re hungry.  It’s that the intent to get along changes the communication behavior so that personal desires are of lesser importance than the desires of others.  Perceive a threat to this intent and you’re likely to refrain from speaking so as not to rock the boat, or say yes when you mean no, or maybe when a decision is called for.

4. Get Appreciation

The fourth intent driving communication behavior is to get appreciation from people, And getting recognition requires a higher level of assertiveness and a people focus, in order to be seen, heard, and recognized.  The desire to contribute to others and be appreciated for it is one of the most powerful motivational forces known. Just today I heard from someone who changed jobs for this very reason.  Studies show that people who love their jobs, as well as husbands and wives who are happily married, feel appreciated for what they do and who they are. If getting appreciation is your intent when you go to lunch with a friend, you might say, “There’s this fantastic restaurant I want to take you to! You’re going to love it. People thank me all the time for bringing them to this place.”  Perceive a threat to it, and you may act out, explode in anger, take credit where it isn’t due and even misrepresent something so as not to lose the appreciation of others.

All four of these intents, get it done, get it right, get along and get appreciated, have their time and place in our lives. Often, keeping them in balance leads to less stress and more success.  To get it done, take care to get it done right. If you want it done right, avoid complications by making sure everyone is getting along. For a team effort to succeed, each party must feel valued and appreciated.

Though the priority of these intents can shift from moment to moment, the challenge is to find a balance of these intents in ourselves so that we can interact well with others.

Comment quickly.  Or take your time.  Be friendly.  Or demand attention.  But please comment.  Because I’d love to hear your feedback and comments on this post and this series.

Be well,



5 Responses

  1. Renee Osman says:

    I have been very busy lately, Dr. Rick, and have missed the start of this series. But this is fabulous.

    I love the way you put things into ‘types’. It helps me to grasp concepts easily. You did that with the lens of understanding, which I intend on focusing more on in my work. Also, I loved the Magic Numbers. The three factors which affect a happy get together.

    With regards families, again, regardless of how nasty they are to you, they all have positive intent!!! Oh It gets me so infuriated how people can do things that on the surface look so horrible – yet their intention is positive. Something you just have to take a big deep breath and accept.

    Thanks for the perspective.


    • Renee,
      Thanks for the comment and positive feedback!
      And yes, the road to hell is paved with the good intentions of family members, and yes, it’s hard to get your head around it when you’re on the receiving end. But if you do, it changes the relationship for the better!
      Keep the comments coming! 🙂
      best wishes

  2. Sheri says:

    Great work!

    I would like to reference some of these thoughts in customer service training-what do I need to do to get your permission to do this?

  3. […] Assume positive intent.  One useful assumption is assuming positive intent.  If you assume the worst in people, you’ll bring out the worst.  If you treat somebody like a jerk, chances are they’ll act like a jerk.  Instead, expect the best and improve the chances that you’ll get their best behavior, at least when dealing with you.  Dr. K says, “…people do what they do for a good reason.  Even the worst behaviors serve a purpose the person considers a good one.  People engage in behaviors based on their intent, and do what they do based on what seems to be most important in any given moment.”  See Top Ten Interpersonal Skills -2- Assume Positive Intent. […]

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