Good intentions are something everyone aspires to, and many of us achieve them, but there is a difference between intentions and intent. Good intentions mean we’ll be on time as much as possible and complete our work to a high standard, but it is usually future oriented and based in a behavior or action we are going to undertake, not one we are engaged in at the moment. Intent, on the other hand is something quite different as it is very much about what is happening in the present and how the quality of our present engagement impacts the future.
Intentions are often focused on what “I will do” (intentions by nature being personal), whereas intent is focused on what is happening in the moment, which can be an “I” or a “we” activity. As an example, think about the way you interact in a meeting (a casual or a formal meeting). Typically (in a group meeting) our attention is split between what has happened in the time before the meeting (while we are waiting for everyone to get settled), what needs to happen after the meeting, (mentally forming “to do” lists). When required, we exert periods of focus on what is being said and/or required of us as participants in the meeting. Our minds wander, but that does not make us bad participants, you may even consider it multitasking. This likely happens less often in one-on-one meetings (or interpersonal interactions), and more often within group meetings. There is a range of focus, but spend a few minutes considering the various types of meetings you’ve attended in the last few days; what percentage of your time was spent focused solely on the meeting and it’s participants while you were there? Was it 60% - 70%? Less? More? Now consider what you, as a meeting participant, would appreciate most from other participants in your meetings and interpersonal interactions. It’s likely a lot closer to 100%.
So why is there a delta? If we are being compassionate to ourselves we can look at the energy and mindfulness it takes to move from one form of engagement to another. If you are working on a spreadsheet just before you enter into an interpersonal interaction it can take you a full minute or more to bring your mind completely into what is required of you – a little bit like conversational jet lag. We expect this when we are engaging others ad hoc (and they of us), but what about the interactions that are pre-planned? Often, when we are the chair of a meeting, or the person who called the meeting, we are carrying the burden of focus for the meeting. That often means our heads are filled with the agenda and what needs to happen next, and we are not noticing (in any meaningful way) how our participants may be keeping pace with the intent of the meeting. Everyone in the room is necessary to be there, to either learn or collaborate, but we often leave the “heavy lifting” to the meeting owner. In this scenario, how valuable is the meeting to either the meeting owner or the participants?
Intent is something we take with us wherever we go, and it speaks to the quality of our presence as we interact with others throughout our day. What is your intent as you head into a pre-planned meeting? Do you have one? What about interpersonal interactions – how focused are you on the needs of the other participants in conversations? Intent can make a noticeable difference in the quality of our interactions, but it isn’t something we have been asked to practice on a consistent basis (or maybe we have and we’ve compromised). Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten used to people giving us 60% - 70% or so of themselves at any given time. What would happen if everyone took steps towards focusing clearly on what is happening as it happens, and to do so with a high degree of quality? Would our interactions become more meaningful? Would our meetings be able to accomplish more in a shorter space of time? Could we give others 100% of our attention consistently?
I pose these questions to you because this is something I’ve been exploring for myself. This has not been an easy undertaking, even though as a Coach I am practiced in being very present and aware in meetings with my clients. However, turning this level of quality and intent on others, and doing so with as many interactions as possible, has proved quite challenging. And exhausting. But it has been worth it as the people I live and work with have started to comment on how well our conversations have been going – how engaged I am and how they feel listened to. In my past these were the types of comments I consistently received from my clients, but not from my child, family and friends. When I stumbled upon that realization, I was appalled, and it has renewed my commitment to this undertaking. Quality makes an enormous difference to those around you, and it is found in your intent.
Carleen Hicks is a Human Resource professional, Leadership Coach and certified EQ-i 2.0 Practitioner. See more of her blogs on emotional intelligence at http://www.chhr.ca/resources and while you are there check out her Resources page to find great books, blogs and web sites you may enjoy.