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Intention vs Impact

In a loving relationship, sometimes your words do not have the impact that you intend. When there is a disconnect between what you intend to communicate and the impact of your words, you are not communicating clearly, and this leads to problems in a relationship. In good communication, the intention and impact are the same. In miscommunication, the intention is not the same as the impact. What are the best ways to communicate with your partner so your intentions are aligned with your impact?

After you speak, you will start to pick up verbal and non-verbal clues about the impact of your message. If you intended to communicate a positive message, but your partner has a pained expression, you may have been misinterpreted.

For example, my wife Diane once told me, “Oh, you’ve been putting in a lot of hours at work lately.” She intended it as a compliment. There had been a chance to pick up additional hours at work, and my family needed extra money for a vacation. I smiled and replied, “Yes, I’m glad to have the opportunity.”

But if I had replied angrily, “Hey, I’m doing my best here! I work, so I can’t be home all the time. What do you want from me?” then Diane would have known that her intention did not match her impact. She would realize that her “positive” comment had been misinterpreted as complaining, and this had created tension in the relationship.

When you realize that your intention has not matched your impact, you need to do damage control. Before the miscommunication starts to spiral into an argument or sulking, try checking in. Diane could say, “Lewis, when I said that, my intention was to appreciate you for all your hard work. Is that how you took it?” This would diffuse the argument and open the doors for me to clarify, “Oh, I thought you were complaining that I have been working late. Do my hours right now bother you?” Then we could start having a calm and clear discussion.

Communication is a two-way street, and the recipient of a message is also responsible for checking in. If I hear a message that sounds negative (“Diane is complaining about my work hours”), I can choose to stop and check in before lashing out. I could say “Diane, when you said that, I felt unappreciated. What did you intend?” This would gives Diane the chance to clarify her intentions: either she feels neglected because I have not been home much lately, or she appreciates my hard work — or maybe something else.

No one is perfect at communicating all the time. Language, cultural and personality differences are just a few sources of “noise” in communication channels. When you are ready to speak to your partner, pause and ask yourself, “What is my intention? Will these words have the impact I want?” If not, re-word your sentence. If you do not see the reaction you expected, check in. Keep the communication flowing clearly to build a fulfilling relationship.