I have just finished reading The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, a book Warren Janzen (our International Director) has been talking about. One of the points that Stephen M. R. Covey makes is that one’s intent (motives) and how that intent is perceived by others have a huge impact on how much people trust us. While we generally judge ourselves by the motives behind our actions, we judge others by their actions, and by our assumptions about their motives. And those assumptions are often wrong. But nevertheless, trust is damaged if our fellow workers or teammates believe that your motive in saying what you did or doing what you did was not to help or build them up but either to promote your personal agenda or tear them down. So Covey says, “People often distrust us because of the conclusions they draw about what we do. It is important for us to actively influence the conclusions others draw by ‘declaring our intent.'”
Our teammates cannot read our minds. Particularly if they come from another culture or sub-culture, there are a myriad of reasons why they might interpret the intent of our words and actions in different ways that what we had intended. As a team leader, you want to encourage your team to work together to accomplish something great for God’s glory, but your words of “challenge” are heard as rejection and negating of their efforts to this point. So we must “declare our intent“; we must explain our motives rather than just expecting our teammates to understand why we said what we did.
Some similar thoughts are expressed by Kerry Patterson and his fellow authors in another book I would highly recommend , entitled Crucial Confrontations: Tools for talking about broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior. When we need to confront another person about something they have said or done, the potential of misunderstandings is even greater . The person hears our words as saying that we don’t respect them, that we don’t value them as people or as teammates. To minimize these misunderstandings, the authors stress the importance of “contrasting”. Contrasting is clearly explaining both what we mean and what we don’t mean. We need to imagine how our words could possibly be misconstrued by the person we are about to confront. Then we need to state right up front that is not we meant, and then clarify what we really mean. “I am not saying that you don’t work hard or that the projects you are working on are not important to our team. In fact, I think you are one of the most diligent people on our team, and I value your contribution highly. All I am saying is that when you regularly come half an hour or an hour late to our team meetings, you make it really difficult for us to finish our meeting by the time some of the team members need to leave for their Bible study. As a result, the quality of our team decision-making and planning has suffered in the last while.”
Another strategy to reduce misunderstanding and defensiveness is to “establish mutual purpose” with the person you are confronting. People immediately go into defensive or even aggressive mode when about to be confronted because they believe that we don’t care about their goals. They may understand our words but they misunderstand our intent. They fear that we are intending to hurt or humiliate them and that they are about to lose something important. The key to overcoming this misunderstanding is to clarify that our goal in talking about this subject is to solve a mutual problem and make things easier for both parties. We need to make it abundantly clear that our intention is to make it possible to achieve goals that both parties hold dear. Again, we need to declare our intent – explain our motives because they are going to be misunderstood. “I am bringing up this subject because I know how important it is to both of us that we plan ahead and make decisions as a team with careful forethought and prayer. That is why I think it is important that we start our meetings on time with everyone in attendance so that we have enough time for thorough discussion and seeking God in prayer about these matters.”
As I think about God’s communication with His people, I find that regularly He declares His intent – why He is doing what He is doing, and what He hopes to accomplish through these actions. The prophetic books in the Old Testament are filled with statements of intent. Recently, I have been struck by how frequently (72 times) in Ezekiel, the refrain “that you will know that I am the LORD” is found in the context of a promise of judgment. God will judge sin, but His motive is not to annihilate, but to help the people recognize His supremacy. God knows that their ultimate welfare and happiness are dependent on them figuring out who He is and why they should be loyal to Him and Him alone. So over and over again, He declares His goal and His intent. Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV) – Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? As mission leaders, we need to do the same.