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Much of the meaning we ascribe to others comes down to how we read their intentions. We judge what is happening and what significance it carries by assessing the intentions we believe others hold. Reading these intentions of others allows us to make quick sense of what they are saying and doing without the need for continual clarification.
We understand what people are getting at by looking at their intentions for clues. This is complex stuff, and the human brain is highly skilled at processing a flurry of words, actions, and movements to infer these intentions.
Without a fast read of intention, we simply wouldn’t be able to assign meaning to what others are doing and saying. In fact, without these divinations of intention, complex meanings like irony, sarcasm, humor, and indifference (among others) would be impossible to understand.
When good leaders are concerned that someone may misinterpret what they are saying or doing, the best course of action is to flag intention. In other words, say out loud what you intend to mean:
“What I’m about to say is not a put-down.”
“I’m trying to clarify, not advocate here.”
“Please don’t take this as a sign of disrespect.”
“I mean this as a compliment.”
“I value your suggestion, but disagree.”
Flagging intention is the smart move good leaders use to influence how others will make sense of matters in a given exchange. By setting the record straight before the record is played, leaders can avoid the kind of misinterpretation that often leads to conflict, wounded feelings, and perceived insult. The best leaders clarify intentions when they have even the slightest spidey sense that misinterpretation is a possibility.
We offer this best practice to help you. We hope our intention is perfectly clear.