Chances are, most of us have entered into conversation and, before long, ended up defending ourselves with variations of phrases like, “that’s not what I meant!” and “you took it the wrong way!” We have fallen prey to misunderstanding, and a discussion has become an argument. This can happen when our intention differs from our impact.
“Intent”, by Merriam-Webster’s definition, is “the state of mind with which an act is done.” Maybe our goal was to come to a better understanding, offer support, explain something, or even apologize. From the time we spoke them to the time our words were processed, our intended message was skewed. It can be confusing and strike quietly, but the difference between intent and impact can have nasty outcomes.
Merriam-Webster defines impact as “influence, effect.” We might have intended to say one thing, but we had another effect. The compliment we thought we were giving about someone’s outfit today might have been received as a derogatory statement about the outfit they wore the day before. The genuine support we thought we were offering after someone failed a test might have been received as an indication that they didn’t try hard enough.
It’s easy to become defensive of our intent when we are coming from a place of love and are met with anger or hurt feelings because of the impact our words had on a loved one. We can’t always foresee these misunderstandings and prevent them from happening because it’s not possible to predict our impact on others 100% of the time. We can, however, use methods to support a more successful recovery from these moments.
When we find ourselves in this situation, it is helpful for us to be genuinely curious about the other person’s experience. How are they feeling? What about the interaction caused them to feel like that? Being curious about the other’s experience and our impact on them will foster our understanding of what is happening and will eventually bring us closer to one another. It is not helpful to continue our attempts to show the other person how wrong they are for feeling the way they feel and different ways in which it isn’t our fault. This will expand the divide.
It can be challenging to lead with our curiosity, but perhaps this will be motivation; 1) Practicing this interest will almost always diffuse the situation faster. 2) There is a new sense of safety in the relationship since the both members have experienced one’s wish to understand and courage to talk about what didn’t feel like it was working for them.
Often, our go-to technique is to be defensive. It’s familiar to us, and it makes us feel powerful when we think we need it most. I have not had one person come to me and say, “Wow, I’m so glad I was so defensive with my partner. It helped them feel like they could talk to me.” I have had many people come to me and say that they are glad they exercised curiosity while discussing a conflict.
Most of the time we have loving intentions, but when love is not the impact our loved one’s experience, we need to be curious about why.
Love and Be loved,