Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Intentions in Conversations

Music Mural

When conversations “go wrong” it’s usually because the participants are not taking into considerations (or not seeing) the others’ intentions for saying what they have said. The first episode of Hidden Brain podcast explained different levels of conversation that happen at the same time. Called switchtracking, there are two conversations going on in what the participants thought was one conversation about one thing:

A: “What topics should we get on the pizza? Sausage or mushrooms?”

B: “I don’t know why you can’t decide for us. You know what I like.”

A is talking about a pizza topping selection but B, in response to A, is no longer talking about the topping or pizza at all, resenting the overall lack of decision making skills, or even more fundamentally, A’s lack of knowledge of what B likes.

The conversation gets derailed, but usually A doesn’t recognized what’s happened, and B’s responses don’t help with the decision at hand.

Noting the other person’s intention can help to recognize switchtracking, to address the underlying point first, to get back to the original point. But knowing your own intentions for bringing the topic in the conversation or the tone you are using is just as important.

Are you bringing up a topic in such a way because you want to

  1. Be right (and demonstrate that to others), for whatever reason (insecurity? attempt to establish yourself as an expert? to make the other person look bad? point of information?), or
  2. Get others to do something?

If it’s the later, you may not have to correct the other person to get them to do what you want them to do. As a matter of fact, focusing on establishing that you are right (and therefore the other person is wrong) can put off the other person from doing anything.

I see this pattern a lot in performance reviews. Frustrated managers come off as unloading their own stress and subconsciously presenting the argument as if to punish the staff they are evaluating, rather than focusing on what they should do in the future. Same could be said about many conversations between couples.

Photo: Minneapolis, Minnesota

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This entry was posted on November 1, 2015 by in Management and tagged , , , .
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