Re-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2016/04/18/intention-v-impact/
“Well, I didn’t mean it like that…”
Sometimes you, and I, try to apologize for the impact our words have on others by trying to explain the intention behind them.
Certainly sometimes explaining our intention is helpful in terms of clearing up a misunderstanding. But have you ever tried to explain your intention and met with even more hurt, anger, resentment, and shut down? That’s because explaining your intention isn’t an effective way of apologizing.
Explaining your intention can be a way of denying the impact of your words. If my friend hears me calling him “irresponsible”, and I respond “well, I didn’t mean that”, I am avoiding the fact that my friend was hurt. I am essentially telling my friend “you shouldn’t feel upset or hurt because I didn’t say what you think I said, and so you experience is wrong.” Oof. If we really spelled it out like that it is easy to see why that message is offensive.
Sometimes it is true that other people hear things that we didn’t say. However, telling them that they are wrong for being upset or hurt doesn’t actually help. In Compassionate Communication, all emotional pain (hurt, anger, disappointment, sad, scared, etc.) is a signal of disconnection. So when my friend hears in his head me calling him “irresponsible”, he becomes disconnected from me, and thus experiences the pain of feeling hurt and upset.
Compassionate Communication teaches that the only way to heal disconnection is through empathy. Again, for minor offenses maybe clearing up a simple misunderstanding is sufficient to reconnect. But when someone experiences a lot of emotional pain from our words, they need empathy to try to reconnect.
Now, empathy is not the same thing as agreeing. So I can empathize with my friend who heard me call him “irresponsible” without agreeing that I called him that. How? By connecting with his feelings and needs. “Oh wow, I’ve really hurt you by saying something that makes you think I called you ‘irresponsible’. I’m sorry. It seems like you feel angry and hurt that I maybe don’t fully respect/trust/think well of you?” I am trying to show compassionate understanding to the emotional experience my friend is having in this moment. Nothing more.
Once my friend and I are reconnected, then I have a better chance of clearing up my actual intention.
My final thought, when you think the impact your words had on someone is out of sync with your intention, before you question their experience examine your intention. Our behavior when we are triggered to a fight-flight-freeze reaction is driven by subconscious drives and impulses. Even when we’re calm, our subconscious plays a role in our behavior. Sometimes it can take minutes, sometimes hours, sometimes days before we fully know why we said or did a certain thing. So before you jump to explain that your intentions were pure, good; take at least a few moments to consider whether some part of you really did intend the impact experienced.
And if you discover that there was a part of you that intended the impact that was experienced, then confess it. Admit it to your friend, partner, family member, coworker, boss. Authentic connection is only possible with real honesty.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.