Thinking Out Loud

Good Intentions

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” the saying goes. We all know what that really means: If you don’t ever follow through, then talk is cheap. There’s a point to be made, yet the idea of having good intentions often gets a bad rap.

Our intentions do matter. I advise people to make their intentions clear at the outset of any important discussion. It sets the context for the discussion, informing the listener of your goals and your feelings about the situation—your intentions.

So what does that sound like? Here’s an example: John, I’d like to talk with you about yesterday’s meeting. I felt pretty uncomfortable and didn’t really know how best to make my point. What I was trying to convey is important to me, and I’d like to make sure you understand where I’m coming from.

There are several things accomplished by this prefacing statement:

  • You communicate the importance of the relationship
  • You demonstrate your commitment to self-improvement
  • You show courage to face a difficult situation
  • You demonstrate leadership

Also, there is strength is facing and acknowledging your vulnerability. Contrary to what some people think, this is not a show of weakness. It is the opposite. It shows self-awareness and a commitment to the truth. When you take this kind of initiative others respect you and will generally reciprocate, which builds stronger working relationships.

Although the above example is related to a workplace incident, it can be applied to our personal lives, as well. This conversation (with small modification) could take place between domestic partners, parent and child, neighbors, or work colleagues.

Being aware of and directly communicating your intentions is part of building successful relationships, but it is also your responsibility to recognize when you have bad intentions. This, of course, requires further exploration of your feelings. Why do you have bad intentions and what is the likely outcome if you act on them? There is no simple path forward if you discover bad intentions, although it is always good to delay action until you have a fuller understanding of what you wish to accomplish.

Finally, stating your intentions up front offers a level of accountability. Once you reveal what’s important to you, you have a responsibility to follow through accordingly, which further vests you in the relationship and helps establish greater trust.

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