The Principle of ‘Positive Intention’
One of the most important and useful principles for managing change relates to the notion of ‘positive intention’. This principle is especially valuable when dealing with resistances and objections. The principle essentially states that: At some level, all behavior is intended or has been developed for some “positive purpose”. According to this principle, for instance, resistances or objections would actually emerge from some underlying positive intention or purpose. For example, the positive purpose behind the objection, “It is not desirable to be successful,” may be to ‘protect’ the speaker from oversaturation or failure. The positive intention behind a resistance such as, “It is not possible to change,” might be to prevent ‘false hope’ or to avoid unrewarded effort.
The principle of positive intention implies that, in order to successfully change a resistance or limiting belief, these underlying concerns, or positive purposes, must be acknowledged and addressed in some way. The positive intention behind a resistance or limiting belief may be addressed directly or by widening the person’s map of the situation such that they are able to see choices for satisfying their positive intent other than resistance or interference.
In fact, resistance created by positive intentions often arise from other limiting (and unrecognized) assumptions. For instance, the reason that a person may feel threatened by the “success” may be because that person does not feel he or she has the skills or support to deal with the social impact of being successful. This concern may be addressed by providing the appropriate coaching and guidance for developing the necessary resources. Another way to address this might be to help the person realize that he or she already has the capabilities necessary and is going to be supported.
It is also important at times to inquire directly about the positive intention or purpose behind a particular resistance or limiting belief.
The principle of positive intention is derived from the deeper assumption that people make the best choices available to them given the possibilities and capabilities that they perceive to be accessible within their model of the world. NLP processes, such as Reframing, are ways to help people widen their map of a situation and perceive other choices and options.
Thus, when managing an objection or resistance, it is useful to begin by acknowledging its positive intent and then lead to a wider space of perception or thinking. It is especially important to separate a person’s identity and positive intention from their behaviors. In dealing with interferences, an effective strategy is to first acknowledge the person or their positive intent and then respond to the issue or problem as a separate issue.
It is important to realize that one can acknowledge another person’s point of view without having to agree with that person, i.e. it is different to say “I understand that you have this perspective”, than to say, “I agree with you”. Saying, “I appreciate your concern”, or “That is an important question” is a way to acknowledge the person or their intention without necessarily implying that their map of the world is the right one.
In summary, according to the principle of positive intention, when dealing with resistance to change it is important and useful to:
1) Presuppose that all behavior (including resistance and limiting beliefs) is positively intended. 2) Separate the negative aspects of the behavior from the positive intention behind it. 3) Identify and respond to the positive intention of the resistant/problem person. 4) Offer the person other choices of behavior to achieve the same positive intention.
Copyright © 1995 by Robert B. Dilts
1. Identify the problematic behavior.
“What is the behavior or symptom you want to change?”
2. Establish communication with the part of yourself that is responsible for the behavior.
“Go inside of yourself and ask the part of you that creates this behavior, ‘Please give me a signal if you are willing to communicate with me.’ Pay attention to any internal words, images or feelings that might be a signal from that part of yourself.”
2.1. If you do not get a clear signal, ask the part to exaggerate the signal. You may also use the symptom itself by asking “Please intensify the symptom if your answer is ‘yes’.”
2.2. If the part is not willing to communicate, ask “What is your positive purpose in not wanting to communicate with me?”
[If you have continued difficulty establishing communication with the part, you may want to try a different change process.]
3. Separate the positive intention of the part from the problematic behavior.
“Go inside and thank the part for communicating with you and ask, ‘What are you trying to do positively for me or communicate to me with this behavior?'”
3.1. If the intention of the part seems negative, keep asking “And what will that do positively for me? What is your positive purpose?”
4. Find three other choices that satisfy the positive intention of the part but do not have the negative consequences of the symptom or problematic behavior.
“Go to the ‘creative part’ of yourself and ask it to come up with at least three other ways to satisfy the positive intention of the problematic behavior.”
5. Have the part that creates the symptom or problematic behavior agree to implement the new choices.
“Go inside and ask the part responsible for the problematic behavior, ‘Signal me if you accept the alternative choices.”
5.1. If any choices are not acceptable, or there is no signal, go to step 4 and modify or add choices.
6. Ecology check. Find out if any other parts object to the new choices.
“Go inside and ask, ‘Do any other parts object to these new choices?'”
6.1. If yes, identify the part and go to step 2, repeating the cycle with that part.
implement the new choices. “Go inside and ask the part responsible for the problematic behavior