October 24th, 2013

A woman is hugging everyone goodbye and comes towards you with her arms spread wide vs. a woman is crowding you into a corner with her arms spread wide. A man is behind you in line, follows you through the line and leaves the store behind you vs. a man is following you down the sidewalk, taking every turn after you, in the dark. Two men are shaking hands vs. two men are shaking hands and not letting go while eying each other intently. A friend puts his hands on your shoulders while he stands behind you vs. a stranger comes up behind you and puts his hands on your shoulders.

In all these situations, the intent is the difference. Whether actual or simply perceived. Perhaps the woman is just trying to give one last goodbye hug. Perhaps the man just lives near you. Perhaps the men are friends, or nervous. Perhaps the stranger is trying to steady you from tripping over something you cannot see. But our life-experiences shade our immediate perception of events. So, the question is, how do you manage the difference between actual and perceived intent?

  1. Be clear – communicate. State your intentions if your actions could be misconstrued, or even if they can’t, just to be sure. Ask questions about someone else’s intent if you are worried or confused.
  2. Do not make assumptions. You can’t read minds. If you haven’t asked and they haven’t stated, don’t assume you know. (See No. 1)
  3. Don’t take things personally. Humans are self-focused beings. Most often, another person’s actions have absolutely nothing to do with you. (See No. 1 and 2)

When we do random scenes as part of crew, there is hardly ever a worry about intent. They signed up, we’re giving them the service they requested. It is when someone asks for more that concerns can arise (though not always). It is when old partners resurface that I tend to have the most trouble not making assumptions, or writing stories in my head about their intentions. And I feel justified because I point at previous behavior and my memories and interpretations of said behavior. But it’s still just stories and assumptions (and fear) until there is clear communication.


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