Being intentional necessitates mindfulness. More specifically, to be intentional, you must be aware of yourself, have situational awareness that includes the other people and the context, have some vision about what you want from the interaction, and have the skill set that allows you to diminish your defensiveness and shift from survive to thrive.
Let's look back at Sally and Donna with the perspective of intentionality and see examples of choosing one or the other in relationships.
We left Sally as she was driving to the headhunter's office after a few mishaps at the office. Previously that day, she lied to her boss about a lunch meeting to avoid speaking with him, only to find out that she was supposed to lead a brainstorming session with her peers. After apologizing and rescheduling that meeting, Sally gulped down a glass a wine and a bit of cheese, then decided to drop in on the headhunter.
Sally weaves her way through the city, almost running two red lights.
“Whew!” she says outloud. “Sally, you better get present.” Not knowing what in the world she is going to say to James (the headhunter), she hopes that he will have a few options for her immediately. She knows it is unrealistic, but she would love to go to work the next morning and tell her boss that she found another job that suits her better.
Sally parks and goes up to the headhunter's office suite. Bob, the receptionist, welcomes her and asks if she has an appointment.
“No,” Sally responds. “But James suggested that I come over this afternoon when we spoke together earlier today.”
“James just started a meeting with a client which will last a good hour,” Bob says, looking concerned. “Then his afternoon is booked for several hours. Would you like to return at 5:30 today? I know he'll see you then.”
“But he asked me to come over,” Sally sputters in shock, disappointment, and terror. “He said that he would make time for me today. In fact, he said to come after work...” Her voice trails off as she realizes that James had suggested 5:30 that afternoon. She feels anger and tears welling up. The anger makes it out first.
“Why I never!” she exclaims. Sally pivots on her heel and almost runs to the elevator, at which point her tears spill out.
She gets outside and collapses on a bench.
What in the world should I do? she wonders. Her head is spinning. She has lost all sense of herself, where she's going, who she is, what her strengths are. She feels lost. Nothing like this has ever happened to her. She is beside herself with fear that her career is crumbling. Her mind is racing but going in circles.
She has no idea of how much time passes as she sits on the bench. She calls her friend Alex, who got her in this predicament.
“Hi Sally,” Alex answers his phone. “How are you doing?”
“Miserably!” she complains. “Can you leave work and meet me? I don't know what to do.” She pauses. “And after all, you got me into this mess.”
Alex hears the desperation in her voice. He disregards the barb that she threw as well as the prior conversation they had in which Sally blamed him, and he responds to her desperation.
“I'm scheduled for a briefing with my boss but then I can get away,” he replies. “Where should I meet you? It will be in about an hour and a half.”
“I'll find a cafe and text you the name and address,” Sally responds. “Thanks, Alex. I... I... I really appreciate it.”
“No worries Sally, ” Alex answers. “I'm sure you would do the same for me. See you in a bit.” Alex hangs up, sighs, and walks down the hall to his meeting. He is very worried about Sally.
While Sally is waiting for Alex, let's check in on Donna...
We left Donna in the midst of a celebration dinner with her family which was fairytale wonderful.
The family cleans up after dinner, the children go to sleep, and Donna and Darren spend a bit of time together. They both feel good about their marriage and how they're raising their children. They appreciate how well their life is going right now and don't take it for granted for a moment. It has not always been this easy. They have worked hard to learn to communicate well and they are just now finding that the practices they put in place in the last year are becoming habits. They share their appreciation of each other and also acknowledge their own efforts. They go to sleep feeling content and full of joy.
The next day, Donna gets to work earlier than usual. She wants to prepare for her onboarding coaching. She writes a short list of questions she wants to explore with her coach. She wants to know how the organization's culture has evolved, how they came up with their values and cascaded them through the workforce...things like that. She also wants to learn more about the leaders here, the office politics, and how to move things through the system well.
Donna finishes in enough time to get a cup of coffee and stop in to say good morning to her team. She spends a few minutes with each team member, finds out that they are all doing well, answers a few questions, and heads down the hall to her first coaching session.
She shows up a few minutes early and takes a seat in a lounge room. Donna is aware of her excitement. She checks in with herself to see if there's any fear or anxiety inside. She finds none, only excitement. She's heard only positive experiences about her coach, Elayne.
The door opens and out walks a middle-aged woman with a warm smile filling her face. She extends her hand and welcomes Donna into her office. Donna feels a sense of delight sweep across her. She already knows that she is going to like this woman.
Donna and Elayne get settled in Elayne's office. They exchange a few pleasantries, and Elayne asks Donna what she's hoping to get from onboarding coaching. Having done her homework, Donna easily relays her list. She completes by saying that since she's in a new position, she wants support to grow into the shoes that she knows she has to fill. Her predecessor was with the company for years and knew all the ins and outs. She wants to learn anything and everything possible to help her do a great job.
“Well, I can tell you already that you're on the right track for success,” Elayne replies. “We'll address all the topics that you want to cover and as others emerge, we'll address them as well. From what you've shared, you've already started the process of becoming a part of the company. Your willingness to extend yourself and reach out to others to get to know them and allow them to get to know you will go a long way. Brava.”
Donna and Elayne have an excellent first session and Donna leaves with homework: to speak with some of the senior managers. She walks out of the office floating. Even though she has a lot to learn and is at the beginning of a steep learning curve, Donna feels empowered and confident that she will become a valuable member of the team.
Using the lens of intentionality, we see a vast difference between Sally's mode of functioning and Donna's.
Donna has a long view and plans how she can turn her vision into reality.
Sally reacts to people from her stressed state, letting her triggered reaction create interpersonal damage.
Donna gives herself time to consider her own feelings, the other person's state, and then decides how she wants to respond.
Sally expects her peer management team and her direct reports to welcome her and look up to her. When they behave differently than she imagines they should, she reacts defensively. Rather than deal with her feelings of disappointment and do something constructive with her desires, she takes it personally and lashes out at the folks she hopes will include her and respect her. Her reactivity gets her the opposite reaction she desires.
Donna is clear about her intention to create positive relationships with her direct reports, her peers, and her senior management. Even before her onboarding coaching begins, she reaches out to each person on her team and with her peers to get to know them. Because Donna has the clear intention of becoming a part of the team, she does not wait for her peers, senior management, or her direct reports to make her feel welcome. As a result, she is well on her way to becoming a part of the team.