Imagine, you send an email to a friend, family member or colleague, which they take completely the wrong way. All of a sudden you are in the middle of a slinging game of emails back and forth. Your friend on the offensive about what you have said and you getting rankled, trying to clarify what you were trying to say.
“I didn’t mean to offend you, I was only trying to say…” It doesn’t make it better.
Quoting your own words back to you, they reiterate, “Don’t you see how it reads?”
“BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT I MEANT!!!” you write back – CAPS, BOLD, EXCLAMATION MARKS
Can you relate? I can! Word for word!
So, what’s gone wrong and more importantly, how do you get out of this downward spiral?
Two words, Intention – Impact!
Intention is what you wanted to convey. Impact is what was received and understood. Most often, NOT the same!
For example, have you ever touched a hot stove? Did you do it on purpose? Probably not. Did you get burned anyway? I bet you did, showing that intent is irrelevant to impact.
Having sustained a severe burn, yelling that you need to get to the hospital, imagine being me with the numb response, “But it was an accident, surely you can’t be burned as badly as you think.”
Whether you intend it to or not, as the conversation conspires, your obsession with intent will only serve to worsen the damage. It also creates so much static you literally can’t hear what the other person is saying as they describe the impact.
The solution. Simple, if you want to maintain the relationship, your job is to acknowledge their reality. I said simple, YES – easy, NO. When emotions have kicked in, when you feel mis-understood, in that moment, to empathize with them and their criticism of your behavior, feels like you’re betraying yourself.
And, you’re not. You’re empathizing.
What if you don’t think the other person is right — or justified — in feeling the way they do? It doesn’t matter. You are looking now for understanding not agreement. Your intention is to repair/maintain your relationship.
And if you never get to explain your intentions? I have found, on the odd occasion I have been able to get this right, that once I’ve expressed my understanding of the consequences, my need to justify my intentions disappears. I am just happy to have my relationship back on an even keel.
A kick up the bum and a little self reflection for me!
What impact are your words and actions having on others?
Are you aware of the impact your words and actions have on others?