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© 2002 R&R Productions, all rights reserved

The Lens of Understanding

This chapter is about understanding... the kind of understanding that will help you communicate effectively, prevent future conflict, and resolve current conflict before it gets out of hand ...the kind of understanding that results when you place your difficult person’s behavior under a magnifying glass, look through the lens and closely examine the difficult behavior until you can see the motive behind it.

Did you ever wonder why some people are cautious and others carefree, some quiet and some loud, some timid and some overwhelming? Did you ever notice how one minute a person might be trying to intimidate you, and the next minute they're nice, and even friendly? Have you ever been astonished at how quicly a person's behavior can change from one moment to the next?

As you focus your lens of understanding on human behavior, first observe the level of assertiveness. Notice that there is a wide range from passive to aggressive, and most people find their own comfort zone within that range. Then observe the extremes. Passive, or non assertive, reactions to a given situation can be submissive, yielding, and even withdrawing completely. Aggressive reactions to situations can range from bold determination to domination, belligerence, and attacks.

Everybody responds to different situations with different levels of assertiveness. During times of challenge, difficulty or stress, people tend to move out of their comfort zone, and become either more passive or more aggressive than their normal mode of operation. When challenged, a highly assertive individual might make his or her presence known by speaking louder or taking action faster. An individual of low assertiveness might be increasingly reticent about the same activities. You can recognize a person's assertiveness level by how they look (directing their energy outward or inward), how they sound (from shouting to mumbling to silence), and what they say (from demands to awkward suggestions) .

When you look through your lens of understanding, you can also observe that there are patterns to what people focus their attention on in any given situation. For example, have you ever become so absorbed in what you were doing that you forget there were any people around? When attention is focused almost exclusively on the task at hand, we call that a TASK FOCUS. Have you ever been so caught up in what people were doing around you that you found it impossible to concentrate on anything else? When attention is focused almost exlusively on relationships, we call that a PEOPLE FOCUS.

Within this range and depending on the situation, behavior can quickly go from one extreme to another, from friendly and down home to getting down to the business at hand, or visa versa. During times of challenge, difficulty or stress, most people tend to focus with greater exclusiveness on either the what (TASK) or the who (PEOPLE) of the situation, than in their normal mode of operation. To discern a person’s FOCUS of attention, listen closely. When someone is TASK FOCUSED, their word choices reflect where their attention is. "Did you bring the report?" "Did you finish your homework and chores?" "Do you have those figures?" "How close is that project to completion?" When someone is PEOPLE FOCUSED, their word choices reflect that. "Hey, how was your weekend?" "How's the family?" "How are you feeling today?" “Did you see what I did?”
Now, put it all together. A person can focus on people aggressively (belligerence), assertively (involvement) or passively (submission). A person can focus on a task aggressively (bold determination), assertively (involvement) or passively (withdrawal). These behavioral characteristics can be observed through your lens of understanding, in others and in yourself. All people have the ability to engage in a wide range of behaviors observable through this lens, sometimes dynamically, sometimes with a lot of static. Yet for each of us, there is a zone of normal -or best- behavior, and exaggerated -or worst- behavior.

Every behavior has a purpose, or an intent, that the behavior is trying to fulfill. People engage in behaviors based on their intent, and do what they do based on what seems to be most important in any given moment. For our purposes, we have identified four general intents that determine how people will behave in any given situation. While these are obviously not the only intentions motivating behavior, we believe that they represent a general frame of reference in which practically all other intents can be located. As an organizational framework for understanding and dealing with difficult behaviors, these four intents are:

Get The Task Done
Get The Task Right
Get Along With People
Get Appreciation From People

Just as people choose what to wear from a variety of clothing styles (formal-wear, office-wear, weekend-wear, etc.,) so people choose from a variety of behaviors that are situationally dependant. You may have a favorite shirt or pair of pants, and you may also have a behavioral ‘style’ that you prefer. But, rather than having one behavioral ‘style’ all the time, your behavior changes as your priorities change. You may find it helpful to identify these four intents in yourself, and recognize their connection to your own behavior in various types of situations. This will make them easier to observe and understand in others.

Have you ever really needed to get something done, finished and behind you? If you need to ‘Get It Done’, you focus on the task at hand. Any awareness of people is peripheral, or necessary to accomplishing the task. When you really need to get something done, you tend to speed up rather than slow down, to act rather than deliberate, to assert yourself rather than withdraw. And when finishing a task is an urgent need, you may even become careless and aggressive, leaping before you look, speaking without thinking first.

But it's not only important to ‘‘Get It Done’.’ Sometimes it is more important to avoid making mistakes, to be certain every detail is accurate and in place.

Have you ever sought to avoid a mistake by doing everything possible to prevent it from happening? ‘Getting It Right’ is another task focused intent that influences behavior. When ‘Getting It Right’ is your highest priority, you will likely slow things down enough to see the details, thus becoming increasingly focused on and absorbed in the task at hand. You will probably take a good, long look before leaping, if you ever leap at all. You may even refuse to take action because of a particular doubt about the consequences.

Of course, it is important to find a balance between these two intents. We call that getting it done right, because if it's not done right, then it's really not done, is it? But any number of variables can shift this balance. For example, if you were given two weeks to complete a task, initially you might lean more towards ‘Getting It Right’, and go slowly and carefully. As the deadline approached, (and especially the night before), the balance could shift dramatically toward Getting it Done! You might suddenly be willing to make sacrifices in detail that before seemed unthinkable.

Another intent behind behavior is the intent to ‘Get Along’ with People. This is necessary if you want to create and develop relationships. When there are people with whom you want to ‘Get Along’, you may be less assertive as you put their needs above your own. If Getting Along is your top priority and someone asks where you would like to go for lunch you might respond, "Where would you like to go?" They may want to ‘Get Along’ too and say, "Wherever you like. Are you hungry?" To which you might respond, "Are you hungry?" In this situation, personal desires are of lesser importance than the intent to ‘Get Along’ with another person.

Sometimes, however, standing out from the crowd becomes a higher people priority.

The fourth general intent, ‘Get Appreciation’ fromPeople, requires a higher level of assertiveness and a people focus, in order to be seen, heard, and recognized. The desire to contribute to others and be appreciated for it is one of the most powerful motivational forces known. Studies show that people that love their jobs, as well as husbands and wives who are happily married feel appreciated for what they do and who they are. If getting appreciation is your intent when you go to lunch with a friend, you might say, “There’s this fantastic restaurant I want to take you to! You’re going to love it. People thank me all the time for bringing them to this place.”

It is important to find a balance between these two intents. We believe that you get appreciation by giving it. Giving appreciation and getting along with others go hand in hand. But any number of variables can shift this balance. For example, if you were the new employee in the office, initially you might lean more towards ‘Getting Along’, taking care to be considerate, concerned and helpful. As the time approached for promotions, the balance could shift dramatically toward Getting Appreciation! If you were afraid your efforts would be overlooked, you might care less about the feelings of others than before seemed acceptable. Similarly, in the courtship that precedes marraige, people tend to show great concern for each other’s needs and interests. Years later, it is not uncommon to hear marraige partners demanding that their own needs be met.

All of these intents,‘Getting it Done,‘ ‘Getting It Right,’ ‘Getting Along,’ and ‘Getting Appreciation’ have their time and place in our lives. Often, keeping them in balance leads to less stress and more success. To get it done, take care to get it done right. If you want it done right, avoid complications by making sure everyone is getting along. For a team-effort to succeed, each party must feel valued and appreciated. Though the priority of these intents can shift from moment to moment, the shaded circle represents the normal balance of these intents in us all.

Consider the following situations to observe how behavior changes with intent.

Jack has been given a project to do at work. He has 3 weeks to do it and it could lead to a promotion so he really wants to make sure it is done right. He needs some figures from his co-worker Ralph. Ralph hands him the paper and says, “The bottom line came to about 1050.” Jack says, “What do you mean ‘about 1050.’ What specifically is it?” Ralph says, “1050.” Jack says, “Are you sure.” Ralph replies, “Yeah, pretty sure.” Jack calls his wife and tells her he will be coming home late. That night he locks himself in his office to slowly and methodically check Ralph’s figures. Where do you think he is in the lens?

Obviously his priority is to ‘‘Get It Right’’. He slows down and withdraws into the task to make sure it is done correctly.

It is the weekend now and Jack is working away in his home office. His seven year old daughter comes in and says, “Daddy, daddy, come look at the painting I did in my room.” Jack pushes his work aside and spends the rest of the afternoon playing with his daughter. That night his wife says she got a sitter and suggests that they go out for a nice dinner alone. When she asks where he would like to go he replies, “Wherever you want.” At dinner she asks if he will have time tomorrow to fix that leaky faucet in the kitchen. Jack thinks of his project and knows he doesn’t really have time but says, “Ok. Sure thing.” Where is he now?

Obviously, ‘Get Along’ is Jack’s intent. He puts his needs aside to please the people he cares about. The project suddenly becomes secondary to getting along with family.

The next day Jack fixed the plumbing and while he was in a fix-it mode he repaired the burner on the stove that wasn’t working and replaced a torn screen. When his wife came back from shopping she wanted to show him what she bought but he first insisted on showing her what he did. Where is Jack now?

If you said, “Get Appreciated,” very good. Take note that when his wife came home, had he been in a ‘Get Along’ mode he probably would have seen what she bought first to please her. Since Get Appreciated was primary he couldn’t wait to show her what he did.
Jack didn’t get as much done over that weekend as he had hoped and the next week got eaten up in crisis. Suddenly the deadline was upon him. He was working at home when his youngest daughter came in and asked if he would sit in her room while she went to sleep and protect her from monsters. He said, “There are no monsters in your room. Now go to bed.” A little later his wife asked if he wanted to have some tea with her. Without looking up he just flatly said, “No.” Then she inquired about what they might do this upcoming weekend and offered some options. “Look, I don’t have time for this right now!” he testily said. “Just pick one.” and turned back to his work. “Darn!”, he thought. “I am going to have to guess at some of these figures.”

Now where is Jack?

‘Get It Done’ is the answer. Under the pressure of a deadline, Jack becomes more task focused and is not willing to take time for family. His communications are more direct and to the point. He is now willing to guess at some of the figures. That would have been unthinkable a few weeks earlier, when he had the luxury of time to ‘Get It Right.’

Notice in these examples how Jack’s behavior changes according to what is most important to him in a particular situation and time. The point here is that behavior changes according to intent, based on top-priority in any moment of time. We all have the ability to operate out of all four intents. In order to communicate effectively with other people, you must have some understanding of what matters most to them.

So how can you identify the intent of another? One rapid indicator is their communication style. Let's go to a meeting where four people with different primary intents each have something to say. Your mission is to attend to each one's communication style and determine that person's primary intent.

The first person says, "Just Do it! What's next on the agenda?"

Which intent would most likely be represented by such a brief and to the point communication style? If it sounds to you like 'Getting it Done' is the priority here, then you're ready to move on to the next example. When people want to ‘Get It Done’ they keep their communications short and to the point.

The next person at the meeting says, "Uh...Given the figures from the past two years, and taking into account inflation, fractionization of markets, foreign competition and of course extrapolating that into the future...I...uh... think it would be to our benefit to take more time to explore the problem fully, but if a decision is required now, then. . . do it."
Which intent would most likely be represented by such an indirect and detailed communication style? If you're thinking '‘‘Get It Right’’' then you just got it right. Notice that both people said 'do it.' But the ‘‘Get It Right’’ person would never think to say that without backing it up with details.

Now a third person at the meeting speaks up: "I feel... and tell me if you disagree because I really value your opinions, in fact I have learned so much working with you all...but I was just thinking...if everybody agrees, then maybe we really should do it? Is that what everyone wants to do?"

Which intent would most likely be represented by such an indirect and considerate communication style? If you feel comfortable with this as an example of 'Getting Along With People,’ then you'll fit right in. A person in the ‘Get Along’ mode will be considerate of the opinions and feelings of others.

Suddenly, the fourth person at the meeting stands up (though everyone else has been sitting) and loudly proclaims, "I think we should do it and I'll tell you why. My Granddaddy used to tell me 'Son...if ya snooze, ya lose.' I never knew what he meant but I never let that stop me. Y'know, that reminds me of a joke I heard. You're going to love this one..."

While that person keeps on going, we'd like you to stop and consider which intent would most likely be represented by such an elaborate communication style? If you're thinking "Get Appreciation From People,’ you've done a fine job so far of learning to recognize intent from a person's style of communication. The person in the Get Appreciated is more likely to be flamboyant.

Can you understand how people with different primary intents might drive each other crazy?
Now think of the problem people in your life. In the situations where you find them difficult, can you recall how they communicate? How about yourself? Who was more direct and to the point? Who was more detailed? Who deferred to others? Who was more elaborate? Who focused more on the task, and who focused more on people. Who was aggressive and who was passive? By observing behavior and listening to communication patterns with your problem people, you can recognize primary intent.

When people have the same priorities, a misunderstanding or conflict is highly unlikely. For example:

Someone you work with on a project wants to ‘Get It Done’. You focus on the task, you’re getting it done, and your communications with them are brief and to the point.

Someone you work with wants to ‘‘Get It Right.’ You focus on the task, paying great attention to the details, and your reports to them are well documented

Someone you know wants to ‘Get Along’ with you. You let them know that you care about them and like them with your friendly chit chat and considerate communications

Someone you know wants to Get Appreciation for what they're doing. You let them know that you recognize their contribution with your enthusiasm and words of gratitude.

Let's look at what happens when a person's intent is not met. When people want to ‘Get It Done’ and fear it is not getting done, their behavior naturally beomes more controlling, as they try to take over and push ahead. When people want to ‘‘Get It Right’’ and fear it will be done wrong, their behavior becomes more perfectionist, finding every flaw and potential error. When people want to ‘Get Along’ and they fear they will be left out, their behavior becomes more approval seeking, sacrificing their personal needs to please others. When people want to Get Appreciation, and fear they are not, their behavior becomes more attention getting, forcing others to notice them. And so it begins. These four changes are only the beginning of a metamorphosis into people you can’t stand. Using our lens, these changes are represented by the area just outside the normal zone.

If you notice these changes in behavior, then you should immediately focus on blending (Chapter Four) with that person. But if aren't willing to be flexible...well, do you want to see something really scary? Their behavior continues to change into your worst problem person nightmare.

© 2002 R&R Productions, all rights reserved