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6 Keys for Handling Conflict, Pt. 4 - Intent is Key

How many times have you had to say, or heard someone else say to you, “That’s not what I meant?” When we communicate, the message we are trying to send may seem obvious to us, but yet is not always interpreted the way we intended. Why is this? There are a number of factors:

From the Listener’s Point of View:

  1. The listener may have heard words that ‘triggered’ a reaction based on past experiences.

  2. The speaker’s non-verbal communication (posture, tone, facial expressions) may have sent a message different from what was intended, and that is what the listener is using to interpret the message. (e.g. “you ‘looked’ or ‘sounded’ angry when you said that” - when maybe the speaker was not feeling angry)

  3. The speaker’s words may not have clearly identified the actual issue, as our message often gets mixed with emotion-based words and personal conclusions.

  4. Cultural differences can change the meaning of words and phrases to the speaker or listener.

When we don’t know the other person’s intention, we are left to interpret intent based on our own thoughts, feelings, insecurities, perspectives, etc. And no two people see things the same way. Take this picture for example:

At first glance, did you see a duck or a rabbit? Show someone else the picture and ask what they see. The point is, we interpret information based on our own personal perceptions.

While it is important to recognize that you cannot completely CONTROL the meaning other people take from what you say, you can grow at how well y

ou communicate your intentions and the meaning in what you say. Here are some key tips:

  1. Let people know your heart’s intention at the beginning of the conversation when you are needing to address an issue. For example, when talking to someone you love, communicate that your intention is to talk through something with the intention of helping you both understand something better with hopes of strengthening the relationship.

  2. If you are telling someone about an issue or problem, consider what do you expect him or her to do with the information? Then let them know what it is you want: you need help, advice, someone to take action, you are giving the other person a heads-up, or you just need a listening ear.

  3. As a listener, recognize the ways we tend to be unfair: We judge ourselves by our intentions behind our words, but tend to judge others by the impact of their words (despite not knowing their intentions). We may avoid conflict at times if we ask a person what they mean by what they say and suspend negative conclusions until it is clear.

The information on this email/blog is intended for general education purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional and/or medical advice.

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