Positive Intention

Every Behaviour Has a Positive Intention

~ Written by Dr.L.Michael Hall
Understanding Positive Intention with the use of basic NLP concepts deal with human nature and are stated in the following forms:
“Every behavior is useful in some context.”
“Every behavior has a positive intention.”
These basic statements about actions and activities provide a new, different, and better way to look at and understand human behaviours. The first statement frame behaviours as attempts to do something that is useful for the person and that in some context are useful. The question would then be, “Where would that behaviour be useful?” Where would raising your voice and yelling be useful? Maybe when a child is out of reach and stepping into the street where a car is speeding by. Where would taking a human life be useful? Perhaps when your and your family is being attacked.
In this reframing, context becomes the issue, rather than the behaviour. The basic concept here is that every action, every behaviour that one can do – as a skill or competency – probably has some use somewhere. The usefulness of the behaviour depends on context. The right or wrong, good or evil, of the behaviour depends on the criteria that you use in a given context. It is right or wrong to what standard? It is good or evil in view of what objective?
This framing facilitates slowing down the judgment (evaluation) process so that we don’t outrightly condemn an action until we know the context. Only then can we apply the standards and criteria to a behavior to determine whether it is effective or ineffective, whether it serves us or those we are with. This is even true of “good” behavior. In some contexts, even good behavior could be bad. It could be bad for the situation and the persons.

Behaviour Is Just Behaviour

From this we can now conclude that behaviour is just behaviour.
Behaviours are just actions (gestures, speech, interactions, etc.) and understandings their value which relate to a context, standards (values), criteria, etc. this also frames behaviours as effects and even symptoms of context and state.
They do not define a person. They are expressions of a person.
The second statement is more controversial. It frames behaviour coming from a positive intention. This does not say that every intention driving the behaviour is positive for those receiving the behaviour. Not at all.
Obviously, that is not so. What it does assert is that people don’t do things for the purpose of being hurtful, stupid, hateful, etc. When they do hurtful, stupid, hateful, etc. behavior, they are trying to do something that’s of a positive intention for them. I say “trying” because often- in spite of the intention- it does not have that effect.

So what does NLP have to do with it?

Consider this NLP concept that “all behaviour has a positive intention”. Now intention here refers to what the person is attempting to do, his purpose, agenda, and reason for doing whatever he is doing. To say that his intention is positive is to say that in taking action, he is trying to make his life better. He is attempting to solve a problem he is confronting in order to meet his needs and feel that he is succeeding.
Now is that true? Can we apply that to a range of human behaviours and check it out? As we do this, we have to remember another basic NLP concept:
People operate from their mental maps about things, not from reality. “The map is not the territory.” What they think is real (their mental map) can be, and often is, very distorted, messed up, and wrong. Then, being cognitively wrong about something- their understanding of what something is, how it works, what they should do, what would solve a problem, etc. can be very fallacious.

Where is the evil?

Putting intention together now with fallible mental maps gives us an explanation of how people’s “positive intentions” can be so wrong and do so much damage. They intend well, but suffering from so many cognitive distortions, cognitive biases, and errors in their thinking- no wonder they do so many stupid, ridiculous, and hurtful things to themselves and others!
They are not “evil” in themselves, but they certainly do “evil” things.
When someone criticizes or undermines another person, the actions may be bad and ugly, but maybe that’s the best choice of behaviour that person has in his mental understanding of what to do. He’s trying to get control back in his life and all he knows to do is hit back, get revenge, or slander the other person’s reputation. When someone cheats, lies, steals, or even kills, perhaps that is the best he can do given his level of learning and level of skills.
And if the person is in a state of desperation, suffering loss of self-respect, suffering the loss of loved ones, suffering the insecurity of being unsafe and unprotected, or suffering the basics of survival (lack of food, shelter, warmth, etc.)- then we really have a problem.

Positive Intention Does Not Validate Bad Behaviour

Behind every behaviour is a positive intention does not validate bad behaviour. Bad behaviour is bad behaviour. If someone’s behaviour is immoral, unethical, or damaging, then we should say so, identify the standards we are using to make that evaluation, and invite the person to correct the behaviour. Doing this means we are separating person and behaviour. It means we are recognizing two levels: the person and the behaviour. They are not the same. You, like me, are more than your behaviour!
Behind every behaviour is a positive intention does not validate, accept, or condone behaviour that is hurtful and ugly. What it does is enable us to approach the person and deal with the person without personalizing the behaviour and seeing them as “just their behaviour.” Paradoxically, by separating person and behaviour, we enable the person to more easily change the behaviour. We can challenge the person to step up and produce higher quality behaviour that more honorably reflects his or her best.

Changing a Behaviour

Behind every behaviour is a positive intention also enables us to coach people to invent and create higher level positive behaviours. This happens all the time in Meta-Coaching. Someone presents a behaviour that they want to change. Rather than shaming them, embarrassing them, or judging them for that behaviour, we embrace it.
A paradox. “Tell me, about that behaviour, what were you trying to do that was of value to you?” Once we get the answer, and it could be a very low-level positive intention, “I was trying to get back at him for what he did to me.” So we ask for the positive intention in that. “That was important? Why?” “Because what he did was not fair, I was trying to make things fair.” “And fairness is important to you? Why?” “Well, because we are all equal, we are all human beings and…”
In Meta-Coaching, we encourage asking the “why is that important?” five to ten times. And often, in the process, it enables the person to begin to create a hierarchy of values that endows life with more meaningfulness.
When you interact with people, seek to discover the positive intent behind the behaviours that you may not like. Assume that it exists (or that the person can create it), and then pursue it in your conversation. The wonder of this approach is that even if it did not exist previously, as you ask about it, you invite that person to begin to create it.

Behaviour Is Just Behaviour, People Are More Than Their Behaviours!

For years I worked with the Department of Corrections here in the State of
Colorado. In working with men who were coming out of the Federal Penitentiary, those who had “a criminal mind,” this approach even worked with them. It offered them hope so that they could separate their “evil”deeds (criminal actions) from themselves as persons. Seeking their positive intention provided them a chance to believe in themselves- that they were not “bad to the bone.” That they were not genetically flawed persons, but they also could think of themselves with dignity and respect. They are more than their behaviours and can learn to do better- much better.
Now how is this an inspiring message for the New Year!
Therefore, if you want to change a behaviour and align to your own higher positive intentions, discuss how to separate ‘person and behaviour’, or simply focus on how we can help you achieve what you want in life, contact The Coaching Centre on 0439194323

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