Top Ten Interpersonal Skills -2- Assume Positive Intent
I’m blogging about the Top Ten Interpersonal Communication Skills I’ve learned in my life.
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.
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Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.