Our family was at the gym this past weekend and I saw a public service announcement on the TV.
A young man on the screen was telling the story of an automobile accident. He admitted to texting while driving…and caused an accident that took the lives of three children.
The tragic irony? He was texting the phrase “I love you” at the moment of the accident.
After hearing this man’s voice and seeing the anguish in his face, it seemed a safe assumption that he didn’t intend for the accident to happen. Nevertheless, few people would argue that his intentions excuse him from the resulting tragedy and loss of life.
Despite an obvious disconnect in this situation between intent and result, a lot of us blend intent and result in many difficult situations, especially with tough conversations. Almost all of us have made the argument that our words should be excused because we did not intend them to have the result they did. Most of us have heard people say, “Well, I didn’t intend it that way. If they took it the wrong way, then that’s their problem.”
Have you ever had someone wrong you and then thought to yourself:
Wow, I feel really angry. Certainly this person didn’t mean to make me feel angry. It must be my problem that so I’m angry, since this person would never intend any harm.”
Yeah, me neither.
Thinking about the other party’s intent is often the last thing on our minds. Fallout from conversations gone wrong divides all of us (sometimes permanently).
Here are three principles to recognize so the conversation results we get more closely match our intents:
1. Intent does not equal result.
We often assume the worst in others and the best in ourselves. Our intentions are probably good, but others may never recognize them if we don’t consider how the message will land with the other party. All of us should consider the result we want when conveying a message, rather than simply focusing on intent. Good intentions don’t automatically get good results.
2. Intent is rarely pure.
If we honesty examine our motives, most of us discover that our intent isn’t always pure as we think. We might generally want to see both parties get what they want, but in a pinch, we’ll look out for ourselves first. If we recognize this human tendency, we can work to control it.
3. Intent does not excuse result.
Just as the good intentions of a driver causing an accident don’t negate a tragic result, our good intentions don’t excuse the problems we cause in our communications.
While both parties assume responsibility when communicating, it’s primarily the responsibility of the message sender to convey it in a way that will be received accurately. When we miss the mark, we should look inward first.
[reminder]Which of these three principles will you apply to help you navigate a tough conversation?[/reminder]