When it comes to determining someone's intentions, it's fairly easy to do after a few drinks and a walk back to your apartment with someone you just met at the bar. But let's not go there. :-) Knowing someone's intentions becomes much more difficult in a work setting. What if the scope of your work got cut? What does that mean? Your mentor tells you he is too busy to answer your questions right now, what does that mean? Your manager asks you for answers at a level of detail you haven't experienced in a while, what does that mean? Guess what? These are all real situations people on my team have encountered in the past year. And I found that there are two types of people, the ones that assume good intentions and the ones that do not. Which one are you?
If your scope gets cut at work, is that a good thing or a bad thing? If you don't know, you should ask your boss and take their answer at face value. In this case, the scope was cut so that the manager can remove lots of small, easy tasks to give the person opportunities for larger, more challenging work. When your mentor says he's busy, hey guess what? He's probably really busy. No anger there, no reason for him to ignore you. Only that the need to complete his tasks are more urgent at that moment than helping you solve your current problem. And when someone starts asking you more detailed questions than you are used to, consider that they aren't really trying to micro-manage you (that dreaded word used in corporations to mean your manager is doing something horribly wrong). Perhaps, your manager needs the details and the data to have a solid argument when he has discussions at his level. Have you ever considered the positive responses to what you perceive or do you always look for the negative, for the conspiracy or the glass-half-empty side of the situation?
As an employee, try giving people the benefit of the doubt. Don't start creating the us vs. them mentality when you don't need to. Assume good intentions until proven otherwise. I guarantee you from my years of experience that this attitude will get you much farther in your career than being the skeptic, the victim, or the one that starts controversy.
As a manager, do you know what your people are thinking? Do you know all the different ways they may be perceiving your actions? It is fortunate when you have a relationship where the employee is open with their manager about their confusion about the manager's intentions. So managers, guess what? Cut your employees a break and spend some time not just dictating actions or handing out advice, but step back a second and explain your intentions. Unfortunately, this doesn't just happen between a manager and their report. It can happen in any relationship, including peer-to-peer ones, even ones outside of work. Every single statement you make or interaction you have with someone creates a perception of what they think you are intending. Scary, isn't it? Almost makes me not want to talk to anyone again! But if you take the time to explain yourself, what you are thinking, why you are asking a question, making a statement, taking an action, or being short with someone, you will find that the person on the receiving end will feel so much better and your relationship can continue to build in a nice way. As a manager, I see the assumption of someone's intention as being one of the most common reasons why people don't get along. So don't let it change the way you interact with others. Assume good intentions, state your intentions, and if you are unsure about someone else's intentions, ask them! Most of the time, they will be happy to explain themselves. Who doesn't like talking about themselves and about what they are thinking? :-)