I write a lot in this space about how to use deliberate, productive intention as a tool to create effective communication and decrease misunderstanding. What I haven’t spent much time on is the fact that intention does not equate to impact.
It’s not possible to completely know what effect our words will have on a person hearing them. Even the most thoughtful speaker has assumptions, biases, and blind spots that show up in their words and behavior. Others can be hurt or offended by what we say, even when we didn’t mean for that to happen. And the fact that we didn’t intend offense or hurt does not absolve us from responsibility for the outcome of our words.
So what should we do? Thinking carefully about how we want to be understood does help. And if we’re venturing into territory we’re unsure of, perhaps we can find a trusted friend or colleague to ask for insight. Curiosity and a genuine openness to feedback help us know how we can communicate more effectively in the future.
The fear of saying the wrong thing sometimes keeps us from speaking at all. If you are in a situation where you’re unsure of how your words will be received, thoughtfulness, transparency, and willingness to learn can help lead the way to a fruitful conversation.