Intention Versus Impact

Communication is tricky between human beings. Each person comes into a communication with their combination of experience, perspective, values, and beliefs, which do not always align with the person you are communicating with.

Human beings are wired for connection, and one of the most frequent ways we connect is through language. A consistent pain point I see with clients is feeling misunderstood or not being able to articulate their ideas in a way that is heard and understood.

Some of this is sexism. Women tend to communicate differently than men, mostly because as women we primarily focus on relationships and being liked, where as men tend to focus on success and power.

First and foremost, I believe it is important to be reminded that conflict is not bad. Feeling messy in relationships can bring two people closer if they stick it out and really try to understand each other’s point of view.

Here is my favorite tool for working out a conflict: share your intention with the person you are communicating with and then ask what was the impact on the receiver after you have communicated your idea, view, opinion and/or perspective.

There is what you say, how it is processed or interpreted by the receiver, and then the impact. For a simple example, if you are a Mom, you may ask you child to stop running and pause before they cross the street. Your intention is to keep your child safe but the child may feel like you are stopping his/her fun–this is the impact. See how easily a good intention to keep your child safe will probably annoy or upset your child?

Or let’s say your boss says, I need this report by 12pm on Tuesday and your response is no that can not be done. You say no because you see pitfalls in rushing because you are immersed in the day to day where as your boss is only holding the big picture. If you stopped here and did not expand on why you responded no to the request, a conflict between you and your boss could be the result. Again, your intention in saying no is that you want the work to be well done, but the impact on your boss may be annoyance since she is not getting the report when she needs it.

Another tricky territory of communication is text or email, which should only be used for working out simple logistics. If you are trying to share anything that feels charged, I suggest going offline and speaking preferably in person or over the phone.

I personally am super sensitive to conflict, as are my clients. Over the years, I have slowly built my muscle to lean into it more as I deeply value connection, but it does take time and I also suggest taking it slow. Slow down any conflict so you can hear the other person and they can hear you.

Lastly, I find most people’s intentions are truly good, but the impact can often feel different. It is always worth checking out, especially in relationships that matter to you.