“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” -Robert J. Hanlon
In the classic 70s sitcom Three’s Company, many punchlines were the result of misunderstanding: whether it was the late John Ritter as chef Jack Tripper being mistaken as a gay man by his landlord, Mr. Roper, or a later landlord named Mr. Furley overhearing innocent talk and mistaking it for sexual innuendo — we could always count on the laughs to come quick and hard because assumptions bloomed like flowers and careful questioning was out of the, well, question.
Of course, Three’s Company wouldn’t be so funny if more characters weren’t so blind to believe based on their own limited worldview, like Chrissy Snow stereotyped as the “dumb blonde”, a tradition that continues in many comedy shows today.
It’s true misunderstandings can make us laugh in real life, but they also cause a lot of conflict: on the Internet, heated arguments erupt like acne boils into flamewars because two people at odds with each other would rather assume the other side’s position and cast their own filters, instead of being curious and learning. The same is true offline, although the greater bandwidth we have face-to-face gives us more benefit to clarify things with a gentle smile and shrug in realtime. Still, as we’ve witnessed from cultural clashes and bitter battles over little things (that’s how they look to “outsiders”), there’s always much to gain from getting the story straight, and the focus of this thinklet, intent.
What’s the big deal about intent?
Photo by noyava
In criminal law, intention can make the difference between getting a life sentence vs. a few years, or in rarer cases, not being imprisoned at all — as the quote I chose above serves to illustrate, there’s a significant difference between malice (which nets the most serious punishments) and stupidity, which is why wordy lawyers may advise their client to act dumb, or even insane. Or blame foodstuffs.
Outside of a court and in your personal life, no good communicator’s toolbox lacks a robust process to determine intent. It’s true there just happen to be some sociopaths who, in the spirit of The Joker, will never tell you the straight story. But you can’t make possibly make exceptions for every case, so on a practical basis, they don’t count. By far and large, most people will be reasonable and willing to explain their perspective so you both have a better — and mutual — understanding.
How do you do it?
Surprisingly simple. Like this:Advertising
“Please explain what you mean?”
I’m shocked it isn’t done more.
You can vary this in a number of ways, from the two-word “Details please?” to a flourish-filled and elaborate “Pardon my misunderstanding, but could you please shine a light on where you’re coming from?” The exact verbiage depends on your personal style, but the end result is the same: it opens the other person up and encourages them to talk.
Wait — don’t step in yet! Wait until they’re finished. (If you’re in a live conversation. Obviously, this doesn’t apply on a web forum.)
Being a good listener can show respect, but it also demonstrates willingness to learn, even if you feel angry towards them. Missing pieces come into play, and that added information can change the whole “gravity” of the situation.
Good for rude questions too
Have you, especially if you’re a woman, been asked about your weight by a stranger? It’s almost always nosy and intrusive, and you may be asking yourself, “Why are they asking me?” In which case, you might as well say it out loud, firmly but pleasantly:
“Why do you ask?”
Their response will help clarify their intent, their motivation behind asking you. Whether it was out of sheer curiosity or veiled prejudice popping to the surface, you’ll hopefully now know.Advertising
I’ve heard this to-the-point technique used with great effect by several of my friends, and it serves the purpose of putting them in a position to explain themselves, instead of making you feel awkward.
I know when it’s not easy
There may be times on the Net when you’re paragraphs-deep into a response that’ll wear out your scroll wheel and (maybe) prove you’re right. But you know what? You won’t, can’t succeed in changing minds by force. You present why you believe something, and it’s more likely the other person will change their own mind. Certainly, you can be a positive influence, but you aren’t doing a Jedi Mind Trick. (Although some of us wish we could.)
Photo by Zeetz Jones
In really tense times, you may find it difficult to be the better person and humble yourself. You may find it hard to even ask “Why?”, and fall back on assuming the other person is just a jackass.
But oh, how often I’ve been wrong because of that: we all have our bad days. It’s a shame when two people have a bad day and ram into each other (whether physically, textually, or otherwise) and assault each other — just makes the day worse.
(Some people are jerks. But you shouldn’t leap to that conclusion without a quick-yet-reliable “barometer of intent”.)
Truth: it’s unarguably better to brighten someone else’s day, and enrich your own too. Which is another reason why determining intent is so important.
There’s an anecdote I love, and you may’ve heard it before — if so, great! Everyone should keep this fresh in mind:Advertising
A man and his daughter are on a bus, and the little girl is bawling her eyes out and making a racket. Everyone can hear it, and an angry lady in the back goes, “Hmph! What a badly-behaved child. Must be an awful father who can’t control his young.”
So angry lady barges forward and gets into a confrontation. She does not ask. She does not exhibit the slightest iota of curiosity. She barks, “Tell your kid to shut up! She’s disturbing everyone!”
Of course she is.
But what angry lady doesn’t know is the girl’s mother, the man’s wife, was just in a severe car accident and following an extended stay, they’re on their way home from the hospital. (They aren’t in a car because the family vehicle was ruined beyond recognition.)
The chances of you coming across a situation exactly like that would be rare, I hope, but it concisely illustrates why determining intent, motivation, and context are so important. Intent can be thought of as pre-action, and while I’m sure the little girl didn’t have much control over her emotions at the moment, her tears undeniably happened because her mum just passed away.
But yes, I know it’s not easy.
You’ll have to practice, like I have. It does become easier with experience — doing it lots, over and over. Living life. As each & all of us do.
Photo by Esparta
Remember that: pre-action
Intent includes ideas. Execution of ideas springs forth from that bedrock. Thinkers who intend to do something, then get it done.
The end result may be the “final destination” of the journey of an idea, but is impossible without the road traveled. I’m not being over-philosophical, I’m merely demonstrating the process of human behavior.
We all have feelings we don’t act on. Conversely, we have actions we didn’t think much about (and there’s healthy and unhealthy varieties of impulsive behavior). But somewhere in the middle, towards the beginning, is our intent, and the intent remains valid (and admissible in a court of law, as premeditated murder makes clear), even if an action is carried out. And in case you’re wondering, since it is a famous quip, good intentions only pave the “road to hell” if you don’t live up to your actions.
We can’t easily forget pain. As we continue to unravel the mystery of the human brain, some recent studies have even shown that hurt feelings are worse than pain. Conclusively, we don’t know yet. But I do know that a quick-check of someone’s intent, up-front, will be the fulcrum on which your future communication turns. If someone blatantly doesn’t answer earnestly or insults you back unreasonably, then no shared discussion can take place — at least, not for now. Perhaps they’ll cool down, change their intention to butt heads, and apologize. Perhaps not.
But regardless of external circumstances, the fact remains: you’re in control of yourself, and you can distance yourself and engage in conversations where you’ve determined the intent is beneficial for everyone involved.
“Intent is not a thought, or an object, or a wish. Intent is what can make a man succeed when his thoughts tell him that he is defeated. It operates in spite of the warrior’s indulgence. Intent is what makes him invulnerable. Intent is what sends a shaman through a wall, through space, to infinity.” -Carlos Castaneda
That applies to women, too. I wish the English language had better pronouns.
Best of hope — and in the comments, as I like to say, unleash your stories of intent!
Last Updated on February 21, 2019
The Secret to Effective Conflict Resolution: The IBR Approach
In business, in social relationships, in family… In whatever context conflict is always inevitable, especially when you are in the leader role. This role equals “make decisions for the best of majority” and the remaining are not amused. Conflicts arise.
Conflicts arise when we want to push for a better quality work but some members want to take a break from work.
Conflicts arise when we as citizens want more recreational facilities but the Government has to balance the needs to maintain tourism growth.
Conflicts are literally everywhere.
Avoiding Conflicts a No-No and Resolving Conflicts a Win-Win
Avoiding conflicts seem to be a viable option for us. The cruel fact is, it isn’t. Conflicts won’t walk away by themselves. They will, instead, escalate and haunt you back even more when we finally realize that’s no way we can let it be.
Moreover, avoiding conflicts will eventually intensify the misunderstanding among the involved parties. And the misunderstanding severely hinders open communication which later on the parties tend to keep things secret. This is obviously detrimental to teamwork.
Some may view conflicts as the last step before arguments. And they thus leave it aside as if they never happen. This is not true.
Conflicts are the intersect point between different individuals with different opinions. And this does not necessarily lead to argument.
Instead, proper handling of conflicts can actually result in a win-win situation – both parties are pleased and allies are gained. A better understanding between each other and future conflicts are less likely to happen.
The IBR Approach to Resolve Conflicts
Here, we introduce to you an effective approach to resolve conflicts – the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach. The IBR approach was developed by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their 1981 book Getting to Yes. It stresses the importance of the separation between people and their emotions from the problem. Another focus of the approach is to build mutual understanding and respect as they strengthen bonds among parties and can ultimately help resolve conflicts in a harmonious way. The approach suggests a 6-step procedure for conflict resolution:
Step 1: Prioritize Good Relationships
How? Before addressing the problem or even starting the discussion, make it clear the conflict can result in a mutual trouble and through subsequent respectful negotiation the conflict can be resolved peacefully. And that brings the best outcome to the whole team by working together.
Why? It is easy to overlook own cause of the conflict and point the finger to the members with different opinions. With such a mindset, it is likely to blame rather than to listen to the others and fail to acknowledge the problem completely. Such a discussion manner will undermine the good relationships among the members and aggravate the problem.
Example: Before discussion, stress that the problem is never one’s complete fault. Everyone is responsible for it. Then, it is important to point out our own involvement in the problem and state clearly we are here to listen to everyone’s opinions rather than accusing others.
Step 2: People Are NOT the Cause of Problem
How? State clearly the problem is never one-sided. Collaborative effort is needed. More importantly, note the problem should not be taken personally. We are not making accusations on persons but addressing the problem itself.
Why? Once things taken personally, everything will go out of control. People will become irrational and neglect others’ opinions. We are then unable to address the problem properly because we cannot grasp a fuller and clearer picture of the problem due to presumption.
Example: In spite of the confronting opinions, we have to emphasize that the problem is not a result of the persons but probably the different perspectives to view it. So, if we try to look at the problem from the other’s perspective, we may understand why there are varied opinions.
Step 3: Listen From ALL Stances
How? Do NOT blame others. It is of utmost importance. Ask for everyone’s opinions. It is important to let everyone feel that they contribute to the discussion. Tell them their involvement is essential to solve the problem and their effort is very much appreciated.
Why? None wants to be ignored. If one feels neglected, it is very likely for he/she to be aggressive. It is definitely not what we hope to see in a discussion. Acknowledging and being acknowledged are equally important. So, make sure everyone has equal opportunity to express their views. Also, realizing their opinions are not neglected, they will be more receptive to other opinions.
Example: A little trick can played here: Invite others to talk first. It is an easy way to let others feel involved and ,more importantly, know their voices are heard. Also, we can show that we are actively listening to them by giving direct eye-contact and nodding. One important to note is that never interrupt anyone. Always let them finish first beforeanother one begins.
Step 4: Listen Comes First, Talk Follows
How? Ensure everyone has listened to one another points of view. It can be done by taking turn to speak and leaving the discussion part at last. State once again the problem is nothing personal and no accusation should be made.
Why? By turn-taking, everyone can finish talking and voices of all sides can be heard indiscriminantly. This can promote willingness to listen to opposing opinions.
Example: We can prepare pieces of paper with different numbers written on them. Then, ask different members to pick one and talk according to the sequence of the number. After everyone’s finished, advise everyone to use “I” more than “You” in the discussion period to avoid others thinking that it is an accusation.
Step 5: Understand the Facts, Then Address the Problem
How? List out ALL the facts first. Ask everyone to tell what they know about the problems.
Why? Sometimes your facts are unknown to the others while they may know something we don’t. Missing out on these facts could possibly lead to inaccurate capture of the problem. Also, different known facts can lead to different perception of the matter. It also helps everyone better understand the problem and can eventually help reach a solution.
Example: While everyone is expressing their own views, ask them to write down everything they know that is true to the problem. As soon as everyone has finished, all facts can be noted and everyone’s understanding of the problem is raised.
Step 6: Solve the Problem Together
How? Knowing what everyone’s thinking, it is now time to resolve the conflict. Up to this point, everyone should have understood the problem better. So, it is everyone’s time to suggest some solutions. It is important not to have one giving all the solutions.
Why? Having everyone suggesting their solutions is important as they will not feel excluded and their opinions are considered. Besides, it may also generate more solutions that can better resolve the conflicts. Everyone will more likely be satisfied with the result.
Example: After discussion, ask all members to suggest any possible solutions and stress that all solutions are welcomed. State clearly that we are looking for the best outcomes for everyone’s sake rather than battling to win over one another. Then, evaluate all the solutions and pick the one that is in favor of everyone.