Intentional Communication

Jennifer Pendergast
Jennifer Pendergast

Too often we fail in our desired communication.  We often believe this is due to failure on the part of the recipient to accept our message.  And, sometimes, we may see failure on our part to deliver the message.

The more intentional we can be about substantial conversations, the more likely we are to achieve our desired outcome.  But, that begs the question – do we always know what our desired outcome is?  When entering into a substantial conversation, how often do we take the time to prepare ourselves?

The importance of intentional communication struck me over the holidays when I had the opportunity to simultaneously spend time with my parents and my teenage children. As I thought through my interactions with both, I realized that each generation was in a part of their lives that colored their communications.

Many teenagers desire in their communication with their peers is to be liked. So, that impacts how they communicate.  On the other end of the age spectrum, elders (parents, superiors at work) often have a desire to educate in their communications, to share the wisdom of their experience and prevent others from making similar mistakes.

While each of these intentions is real and important to the speakers, often they are delivered in a way that doesn’t achieve the desired outcome. Teenagers who desire to be liked are often evasive in their communication, not committing to a point of view or not being honest.  This can backfire, getting them into situations where they can be labeled as dishonest or where they have not been true to themselves and their values.  With elders, the desire to educate can often be perceived as judgement or criticism.  In both cases, speakers have failed at achieved their desired outcome.

As a result of observing this situation, and my frustration at reacting to communications from both generations, I decided to do an experiment for one week. Before I spoke in what I term a “substantial conversation” (meaning one where I sought an intentional outcome), I would stop myself to ensure that I was clear on:

  1. What my intention was in communicating. (Was it really to help someone else or was I venting?)
  2. What the desired outcome was of the conversation. (Did I just want to be heard or did I want something to change?)
  3. What was the likely receptivity of the recipient. (Would they be open to my message, discount it or ignore it?)

It was a very interesting exercise. I found that in the instances where I was able to stop myself to plan my communication (which wasn’t every time, I’m sad to say), my communications had a much better outcome.  I was clearer on what I was trying to accomplish.  My message was better prepared.  And, I set up the communication in a way that the speaker was likely to be more receptive.  In several cases, after thinking it through, I chose not to communicate at all because I realized that nothing good would come of that communication.

Families who are in business together have great needs to communicate effectively – it affects their relationship as well as their success in business.  Yet, they are often the most challenged due to unaddressed baggage or hurt, complex power dynamics and inability to “get away” from each other if needed.  Learning how to communicate intentionally is a process or skill that benefits families greatly on a one-on-one level as well as in planning group interaction. And like any skill, it requires a lot of practice to perfect.

Try your own intentional communication experiment and see how it works for you. (And if you figure out the key to conversing with teenagers, please share it with me!)