I’ve learned this year that sometimes we have sneaky, shadow intentions that may influence our actions and conversations without even knowing. Now when something doesn’t go quite right, I ask myself what my real intention was in this situation. If you are really honest, you will often find an answer that explains why you didn’t have the impact you wanted.
This is powerful and can explain why tough conversations didn’t go the way we wanted them to. Sometimes leaders get into conflict situations with intentions such as “For the good of this team, I must remind this person who is in charge,” or “I have to quell the impending uprising,” or the very common “If I don’t nip this in the bud, I am going to look ineffective.”
We can talk ourselves out of the belief that we have sneaky, shadow intentions because we know that the probable outcome will be good. But what if leaders got real with themselves?
If you pause, think long enough about your intentions, and discover the sneaky shadow intention, then you can reconsider your approach, come up with ways to temper the need to correct with some curiosity, and proceed more confidently and constructively. The Arbinger Institute, in their Outward Mindset approach, uses the language Listen and Learn, then Teach and Communicate in their process. If those steps don’t happen, you can’t correct.
I better go talk to Sarah about her not getting the TPS report to Karyl on time for two weeks in a row.
If I don’t, Karyl will get mad at me for not holding Sarah accountable.
Also, Karyl will stay mad at Sarah.
Sarah won’t know that she’s screwing up unless I talk to her.
And if I fix this then maybe I won’t have to worry about talking to those two as much. They drive me nuts.
They drop the ball on little things, then they over-react when other people do the same thing.
I shouldn’t have to deal with this. This is annoying.
I’m going to do whatever it takes to avoid dealing with this in the future.
So that’s my sneaky intention—to get Sarah and Karyl to stop bothering me with little things. I deceive myself into thinking my intention is to solve a timely delivery problem, but that’s not where my head is at. I might find myself getting easily irritated, or badgering others, or becoming impatient.
However, if I’m self-aware about this mindset, then I can clear my head with more self-talk:
If my whole point is to keep Sarah and Karyl at arm’s length, this won’t go well; I’ll get impatient.
I should be real, up front, and say things like “I confess to being impatient about these things because I think they’re small, but I know you all care about getting things done in a timely way.”
I should try to learn more by asking questions like “Has the deadline been unreasonable? Are there some inputs you’re having trouble with but not telling us about? Do we need to make any changes?”
Get real about your intentions before entering into a situation. Go in with honesty and curiosity.