"You know what I meant."
"That's not what I said and you know it."
"It was never my intent to insult anyone."
"That's your problem, not mine."
We forget that each of us is separate and different from the other. Even with the same parents there are very real differences. We also imagine that what we are thinking is pretty much what everyone else is thinking. Even if our thoughts are "in the same ballpark," they can't be the same since we all have different meaning in our minds for nearly everything. This awareness should force us to take great care when our intent has an impact that is not expected.
Some precautions that would be useful to keep in mind from Richard Magid in a useful article about Intent vs. Impact.
"Challenge One: Every message must first pass through the filter of the speaker’s clarity of expression and then through the listener’s ability to hear what is said.
(Opportunity #1 for Intent not to equal Impact)
Challenge Two: We don’t actually know the intentions of the people we communicate with; often times we assume/judge their intentions based on their actions which may cause their words to impact us unfavorably.
(Opportunity #2 for Intent not to equal Impact)
Challenge Three: Good intentions do not sanitize bad impact.
(“Good Communication” - INTENT must = IMPACT)"
So how do we improve the chance that what our intent is creating the proper impact? Magid points out some solutions.
"First, ask yourself some questions:
- What just occurred?
- How is the outcome different from what I intended/expected?
- Where can I take responsibility?
- How do I clean this up?
Second, take action to clean up mismatches of intent and impact as quickly as you can:
- Be honest about your intention.
- Discuss with the other person, their perspective.
- How could you have handled the communication differently?
- Take responsibility for your actions.
Things to Remember/Action Steps:
• “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
• As you communicate with others on a day-to-day basis, strive for Good Communication. Pay attention to the signs that there may be a mismatch between your intent and your impact on a colleague, friend, or someone at home and take immediate action."
Melanie Tannenbaum has some excellent thoughts on what to do about ideas like, "But I didn't mean it!" First, it would be an excellent plan to assume that sooner or later you will "put your foot in your mouth." Harm can be done and a thought pattern would be useful. Tannenbaum says, "So, the point is that we really need to focus on impact, not intent. Was someone hurt by something? Was there a negative outcome? Did someone suffer? If so, that is what’s important. Whether or not the perpetrator meant to cause harm is not."
To say the least, human communication is difficult. It is worthy of great attention.