Academia

Do you really understand others’ intentions?

What do you see? Better yet what does it mean?

As a manager I find I’m actually quite good at reading the intentions of others. Occasionally, I have a misfire but for the most part I am pretty spot on. I suppose it helps that I am a psychologist. I’ve read hundreds of studies trying to understand human motivation and the context in which behavior occurs. I’ve conducted my own research studies for that goal, both in the science lab and in everyday life.  But I have always been this way. From a very early age, I’ve had insight into the human psyche. I sort of had to in order to survive and thrive. I have always relied on my gut and my understanding of what drives others around me. 
What shocks me though is how often most other people misread the intentions of others. Further, we can’t even trust videos that purportedly capture people’s intentions. We don’t trust the mirrors in our society anymore. Perhaps we never did. I mean, Shakespeare definitely has made a living posthumously by highlighting the comic and tragic nature of misinterpretation. There’s a reason why kids still read his works in school and why movies continue to be made of his books.  

Now lest you think I am just trying to toot my own horn of insight above all others, let me highlight a study that just came out by a researcher at Manchester University. In this study, the researchers found that despite many people thinking that they “know what someone is doing just by observing them” , they really do not. Behaviors are multi-faceted and very much depend on context as well. Which is why health promotion campaigns have to be truly thought through and through. 
But enough of that academic stuff. I’m usually a little snarky. Let me see how I can bring it. See this photo below of the sleeping lion? Its a beautiful tableaux. But would you assume that a sleeping lion that looks so peaceful should be disturbed? 

So many people in the workplace misunderstand and misinterpret the intentions of their colleagues, bosses and staff. That’s a given. We may attribute laziness to a person when it may be that they are afraid of being taken advantage of. Although, often laziness is just laziness. Sometimes we believe people when they say they are keeping it real when they are just really a whole lot of phony. There may be a colleague who may be thought of as being mean when they go around telling people that they have gained weight. When in actuality they are just showing concern for their colleague’s health. The workplace wouldn’t be so stressful if we were well versed in reading the intentions of others. If we can’t be well versed, I guess the next best thing is just not to assume intentionality. Or get an easy button on Amazon. They sell everything. 

14 replies »

  1. Great post! It is sometimes difficult to read others’ intentions though most of the time I try not to jump to conclusions. As the above commenter said, I guess not knowing is what makes life interesting. Tact and empathy are skills which I am becoming better versed in the older I get!

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  2. When I last did a test with a psychologist (the WAIS?) apart of that test involved her asking me what do people intend to do, or perhaps it was what are people’s intentions. The psychologist was really vague and didn’t offer any clarification – which I wanted! – because I asked her in what kind of setting; public, in a store etc. But she just stubbornly asserted, what do people intend? This was a little annoying but I eventually just said I don’t know!

    Ask me the question now, what I would say is that people’s intentions are difficult to read as you mention, if I saw a person in a store selling clothes well then I think it is obvious they intend to look for a shirt to buy that they like. Or perhaps they are in the store with the intention to window shop and enjoy their time doing that. Now, I didn’t Google that – that’s right off the noggin!

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  3. add that to living and working outside ones home country, and trying to understand the motivations and intentions of people from a vastly different country – its difficult. most of the time its okay, but when one is under stress behaviours change. differing cultures having differing ways of dealing with conflict and that can cause misunderstanding and misreading of intentions in and of itself. great post.

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  4. Do you understand people’s intentions so well because you are a psychologist, or did you become a psychologist because you were born with an intuitive desire to understand why people do what they do and are the way they are? Because you said you follow your gut and have had those instincts since you were small, I am guessing it is the latter. Perspective and context are everything!

    I love reading your insightful posts!!

    -Kaitlyn

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    • Thank you for such kind words. Yes, I think you’re right on the fact that my gut drove me towards being a psychologist. What a world we live in. Gives me much food for thought. Lol.
      Hope your week ahead is a great one!

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  5. I never have a clue about anyone else’s intentions. I guess I view the behavior of others through the prism of my own thoughts.

    There was one time, though, when my twit of a boss said he wanted to talk to me. When I asked if the conversation would be negative, he lied and told me that it would not, then of course proceeded to berate my performance, ending the conversation by telling me to enjoy my birthday as I prepared to leave early to celebrate. As if! I mean, what kind of a twit expects me to believe his good wishes after this behavior?

    Others in management may have thought I was lazy, as I didn’t produce the same quantity of output as my peers. In this case, as I was trying to do an overly thorough job, the twit did actually analyze the situation correctly, telling me that I had paralysis by analysis.

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