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Intent Versus Impact

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176 – April 2017


Our words transmit information on two levels, intent and impact. Webster’s Dictionary defines Intent as, “The state of mind with which an act is done: volition* and impact as, “To have a direct ef- fect or impact on: impinge on.** The intent and impact of the speaker may not be how the listener receives the information.

A speaker usually believes the listener will accurately translate the intent of their words. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Words have a strange way of having a different, unintended and unexpected impact on the listener. Their experiences, attention and presence as it is spoken define how a statement is heard and interpreted.

Intent and impact are usually defined independently based on the lens through which the speaker/listener heard what is being said. The speaker can inadvertently touch a nerve in the listener by his/her words and tone. The speaker believes that their intent was clear and their words harmless. They proceed with the best of intentions only to find the listener heard their words differently. When what the speaker said is interpreted differently or misunderstood, the speaker tends to tell the listener they are wrong. This response usually serves to reinforce the listener’s feel that the speaker spoke with malice of intent. Impact is independent of intent and largely based on an individual’s experiences.

Speakers tend to treat their words more charitably. If they didn’t intend to speak in a way meant to offend, how could anyone see it any other way? They feel the listener’s reaction is ridiculous and a simple explanation, showing the listener the error of their interpretation should straighten this out. When this doesn’t work, each side gets angry. They feel unheard and disrespected. Neither is listening for understanding; they are listening for response.

Our beliefs and views are our own. Misplaced intent can be hazardous to a relationship. It easily transforms a person’s intention from good to bad. The stakes are high and we see everything through our own lenses.

The best way to avoid sending/giving the wrong intention is to allow you to think the best about people. If you presume bad intent, defensiveness ensues. Everyone feels like a victim of the perceived bad intention. It becomes a vicious cycle. If I believe the intent of your words was meant to impact me negatively, I am going to respond negatively. This is how well-intentioned people find themselves in unexpected conflict. Assumptions become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Click here to read the complete article
176 – April 2017

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