Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Intentions: The Lie Behind the Words

Communication major dimensions schemeImage via Wikipedia

But I didn't mean for that to happen! That's not what I meant! I didn't mean for that to hurt your feelings! You misunderstood what I meant by that!

What do all these statements have in common? They all share one simple truth... intentions make no difference in how we are perceived by others. When we interact with those with whom we are in a relationship on a daily basis, we interpret what is said and done using the lens through which we view the world. We have no way of knowing what motivation our partner may have had when they took an action which affected us. We may think we know our partners intentions, and we may be correct at times, but in actuality we view the world through our own point of view.

How does this affect our relationship? When we talk to our partner we are expressing our thoughts and feelings through our words, actions and meta-messages. Our partner translates what we communicate through their lens. In the process, much may get lost in translation. Our underlying feelings may be communicated through our body language and our tone of voice. Yet, we may be unaware of how we are perceived. When we speak we may intend one message, but actually communicate another.

An excellent example involves our partner completing a chore which we have requested. We attempt to instruct as they work, wanting to achieve a particular result. We believe we are communicating our desire for a particular outcome, however our actions may indicate a belief that our partner may be incompetent to complete the task on their own. This underlying message comes through causing our partner to become annoyed with our interference. Although our intention was clear in our mind, our partner experienced our actions within a completely different frame work... their lens.

We recall that our partner was raised in a different family of origin. Within that family communications patterns developed and were imprinted on our partner as a baby, reinforced as a youth and finally adopted as an adult. Our experiences and communication patterns in our own family of origin were unique to our family. When we communicate with others our natural instincts revert to our original communication patterns. We recall that each individual learned their patterns in their family of origin, making communication more complex.

We may understand our intentions, but those who receive our message glean additional information through our body language and tone. We can compensate for this difference by carefully selecting our words, monitoring our tone of voice for indications of emotional discord and being aware of our own feelings. This is not, however, a panacea. We may still have occasions when our message is misinterpreted or lost. When we reach an impasse we use our tools. Dialogue, an important tool, may help to re-establish effective communication and restore balance to the relationship.

We practice self care making certain that we honor our feelings and communicate as effectively as possible. We use our tools to keep ourselves centered and balanced. In this way we give ourselves the gift of healthy communication skills.
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