Setting Intentions – Clarity Before Action

How often do you find yourself going through the motions? It is natural for us to automate certain tasks – brushing our teeth, cleaning or driving to our local grocery store.  At times, this autopilot isn’t helpful.  

Compare driving to your local grocery store to driving in a new city for the first time.  Driving to your local store is typically autopilot.  Of course, we are able to make the micro-adjustments to prevent hitting pedestrians and potholes but for the most part, our mind wanders to other things.  

Going to a new city is a completely different situation.  We are acutely focused on the road, the traffic, looking for street signs and turning down the radio so we can hear our GPS telling us which turn is next.

Just like driving, there are times when autopilot is enough for a work task.  But that same autopilot can be dangerous when it comes to supporting our people.

To avoid autopilot, we need to think of interactions with our team in the same way we view driving in a new city.  Set your GPS and stay focused with both hands on the wheel.  Setting your GPS is the equivalent to setting your intentions for the interaction.  You need to consider:

  • the goal, where you want to get
  • the route, how you want to get there
  • the purpose of your trip, why you want to go there  

These three points are used to set your intention for the interaction.  By setting the intentions in your head BEFORE the interaction, you are less likely to get derailed in the true purpose behind the interaction.  And silently stating our intentions often isn’t enough.  For true clarity, explicitly stating our intention to the other person can make or break the situation.   

Let’s take a closer look.  I was recently talking to a client who was having a challenging time giving feedback to one of their team members. As we continued to talk, it became clear to me that my client had not outlined the intention behind their feedback. For them, providing feedback was an autopilot task in which they simply narrated their thoughts about an employee’s performance. When I specifically asked what the intention of the feedback was going to be, my client wasn’t sure.  With probing, she said  “Make her improve so she doesn’t get overwhelmed, and get her to think outside the box.” 

As we talked more, we identified a few things:

  1. This team member receiving the feedback is a highly detailed person whose foremost professional fear is making mistakes.
  2. She is motivated by learning all that she can about a topic, not just the information that is needed for the decision.
  3. She is a high performer except when she doesn’t have all of the information.
  4. When information is limited, she seems to shut down and avoid potential mistakes by avoiding the work altogether.  

So I asked my client how realistic their intentions were – could they really get someone to “think outside the box” if that isn’t how they are wired? Not really. But they can focus on the intention of teaching this team member the skills to work with limited information and how to determine what, if any, additional information is needed before acting.  

Once the end goal was clear, my client realized that what they planned to discuss wasn’t going to achieve the true intention.  By addressing the goal, the route and the purpose the conversation was able to be truly productive instead of a waste of time and energy.  Intention gave rise to specificity which could then be communicated to enact real change. 

One final thought about autopilot.  Even when you are driving a route you drive everyday, some part of your brain is still ready for something out of the ordinary.  For example, your typical route is blocked so you use GPS to find an alternative.  Maybe there is torrential rain and you need to put both hands on the wheel, turn down the radio and focus intently on the road ahead.  

You need to be ready to shift from autopilot to focused intention when something out of the ordinary happens with a team member.  Someone stops in to ask about time off.  Autopilot until you realize it is because they have a personal issue that requires extensive time off.  A person grabs you in the hall to ask about changing a procedure.  Autopilot until you realize that there has been a bigger gap in communication that needs to be addressed.  

I encourage you to pursue intentionality in all that you do, personally and professionally. Set your GPS for your next interaction with a team member.  

  • the goal, where do you want the conversation to go
  • the route, how do you think the you should get there
  • the purpose of your trip, why you want to go there  

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About Amy Lafko

As a Physical Therapist, Amy spent years in school learning best practices for patient care and how to put the patient first. Like so many technically skilled clinicians, she advanced to a leadership role. Spending 20+ years in operational leadership, she had an epiphany: Putting the customer first isn’t the path to success or fulfillment. Rather, the most successful organizations and practices put their people first – and exceptional customer care, profitability, and effectiveness naturally followed.