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AIM for Better Communication

Why Attention, Intention, and Message can improve the quality of interactions---

On our journey, there will be gaps between who we intend to be and who we are. The failure is in not minding these gaps. This is where our best growth potential lies.–Leah Weiss (2018)

Photo by Wynand Van Poortvliet | Unsplash

Have you experienced that gap between your goal for communication and the many ways an interaction can fall short? When the process is rushed, you may experience disappointment when you realize there was a missed opportunity for a thoughtful exchange. The AIM strategy can be used to bridge this gap, offering a pause ahead of action.

As a parent and educator for many years, I have ample experience with less-than-ideal communication. In my reflective practice, it became clear that some of my efforts were reactive and did not have the effect I desired. I wanted to be responsive to the child; I hoped to nurture growth and foster development.

After exploring the elements of communication, I created AIM, an approach that can transform the interactions. The elements are Attention, Intention, and Message (AIM). Over time, AIM became the three-part method that helped me develop a frame of mind and a heart that shapes my role as a parent and an educator. Using AIM, I now reach a better outcome with children.

Attention is the first element. What captures your interest? Take a moment to pause and observe. What do you see, hear and sense? Is your attention where you want it to be? Would it be better to redirect your focus? Be deliberate in your awareness of the children.

This act of observing enables you to gather information that helps you to determine your priority. Deliberate observation supports awareness and promotes perspective taking of others that may move us toward what we value. As expressed by Fred Rogers, “When you combine your own intuition with a sensitivity to other people’s feelings and moods, you may be close to the origins of valuable human attributes such as generosity, altruism, compassion, sympathy and empathy” (Rogers, 2003, p. 147).

Photo by Joanna Nix |Unsplash

Intention is the second element of this approach. What is the goal for the child, and for you? Where are they on the developmental continuum? Think about what would benefit the child or group of children. Analyze your own point of view. What is your role and how might you best achieve the objective?

In this moment of intention, we are able to connect our philosophy of education to our knowledge of the child and the situation. The act of mindfulness enables us to activate our higher-level thinking and elevate the circumstance towards better practice. Being aware of our intentions allows this connection to become part of the bridge between reaction and action.

Message is the third element of AIM. What do you want to express? What do you want the child or children to know or do? How we hold our posture and facial features during messaging is a visual display of our interior view. Our tone and cadence are indicators of the meaning of our verbal output. Thoughtfully crafted words come together with non-verbal signals to convey fully our feelings and thoughts. The message, then, is our response within the interaction.

Now, how can you apply these elements of AIM? Perhaps the sound of raised voices catches your attention and compels you to move closer to a group of children. When two children are speaking loudly, it easily captures your attention. Much like the recommendation for entering the site of an emergency, “check the scene”, observe whether is there is a child at risk. How are the other children? What do you hear and see them doing? Are they busy with others or materials, or do onlookers notice the dispute? It may be that your attention is drawn to the needs of a quieter child — is this the priority? Or, it may be that the two children with loud voices are the ones that continue to secure your attention.

If your intention is to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible for a short-term solution, then take charge and tell them how to fix the problem. Alternatively, if your intention is for the children to use the dispute as an opportunity for thinking, social problem solving, and a chance to practice efficacy, you can consider longer-term goals. What do you know of these children’s skills and capacities? How might you engage them to consider the situation? Your role can shift from an authority to a guide who scaffolds children’s conflict resolution processes.

Consider positioning yourself in close proximity with the children. Your presence may be enough to remind experienced players to use skills they have learned but have not yet accessed. Rephrase the information to let the children know that they have been heard and understood. Use active listening: “Whether the other be an adult or child, our engagement in listening to who that person is may be our greatest gift” (Rogers, 2003, p. 171).

Match your facial expression and body language to align with your intention and desired message. Monitor your tone, you pace of speech and your gestures as you deliver the message. Determine the appropriate word choice so that your language improves the clarity and meaning of the expression. Timing plays a role in these interactions

Photos by Priscilla Du Preez | Unsplash both in receiving (listening) and in

sharing (speaking) information.

The value of constructing a message that aligns with your goals fits withCarol Dweck’s(2006) research on growth mindsets.

Every word and action from parent to child sends a message. Tomorrow, listen to what you say to your kids and tune into the messages you’re sending. Are they messages that say: You have permanent traits and I am judging them? Or are they messages that say You’re a developing person and I’m interested in your development? (p. 639)

Any adult interacting with children can benefit from using care in selecting verbal and non-verbal signals to create a better quality message.

After using AIM, observe again to see how the outcome matches your intention for the child. Development occurs over time, so this may be hard to determine immediately. For both adults and children practice eventually increases skill, so that all may be able to negotiate their own interactions independently. Ultimately, adults and children alike make gains in the emotional and social capacity.

Parents and educators are keenly aware that communication has value, and yet one finds missed opportunities. AIM is a strategy that helps me to increase my awareness of the process of communication. It is simple enough to remember and eventually easy to implement. I do notice that when I use AIM there is a smaller gap between my goals for communication and my practice of communicating.

Attention, Intention, and Message can be leveraged to shift an adult’s reaction toward becoming a more purposeful and responsive action. This small and powerful approach can result in an advantage for parents and educators in reaching their own communication objectives. Try AIM as a strategy to promote better communication and improve the quality of your interactions.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House. Rogers, F. (2003). The world according to Mister Rogers, New York, NY: Hyperion. Weiss, L. P. (2018). How we work live your purpose, reclaim your sanity, and embrace the daily grind. New York, NY: Harperwave.

WRITTEN BY Bev Hartman Founder and COO, The Parent Venture. Educator and believer in the value of relationships, communication, and a competence view of learning.

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