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Determine Intent & Destroy Misunderstanding

Determine Intent & Destroy Misunderstanding

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” -Robert J. Hanlon

In the classic 70s sitcom Three’s Company, many punchlines were the result of misunderstanding: whether it was the late John Ritter as chef Jack Tripper being mistaken as a gay man by his landlord, Mr. Roper, or a later landlord named Mr. Furley overhearing innocent talk and mistaking it for sexual innuendo — we could always count on the laughs to come quick and hard because assumptions bloomed like flowers and careful questioning was out of the, well, question.

Of course, Three’s Company wouldn’t be so funny if more characters weren’t so blind to believe based on their own limited worldview, like Chrissy Snow stereotyped as the “dumb blonde”, a tradition that continues in many comedy shows today.

It’s true misunderstandings can make us laugh in real life, but they also cause a lot of conflict: on the Internet, heated arguments erupt like acne boils into flamewars because two people at odds with each other would rather assume the other side’s position and cast their own filters, instead of being curious and learning. The same is true offline, although the greater bandwidth we have face-to-face gives us more benefit to clarify things with a gentle smile and shrug in realtime. Still, as we’ve witnessed from cultural clashes and bitter battles over little things (that’s how they look to “outsiders”), there’s always much to gain from getting the story straight, and the focus of this thinklet, intent.

What’s the big deal about intent?

Gavel by noyava.

    Photo by noyava

    In criminal law, intention can make the difference between getting a life sentence vs. a few years, or in rarer cases, not being imprisoned at all — as the quote I chose above serves to illustrate, there’s a significant difference between malice (which nets the most serious punishments) and stupidity, which is why wordy lawyers may advise their client to act dumb, or even insane. Or blame foodstuffs.

    Outside of a court and in your personal life, no good communicator’s toolbox lacks a robust process to determine intent. It’s true there just happen to be some sociopaths who, in the spirit of The Joker, will never tell you the straight story. But you can’t make possibly make exceptions for every case, so on a practical basis, they don’t count. By far and large, most people will be reasonable and willing to explain their perspective so you both have a better — and mutual — understanding.

    How do you do it?

    Surprisingly simple. Like this:

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    “Please explain what you mean?”

    I’m shocked it isn’t done more.

    You can vary this in a number of ways, from the two-word “Details please?” to a flourish-filled and elaborate “Pardon my misunderstanding, but could you please shine a light on where you’re coming from?” The exact verbiage depends on your personal style, but the end result is the same: it opens the other person up and encourages them to talk.

    Wait — don’t step in yet! Wait until they’re finished. (If you’re in a live conversation. Obviously, this doesn’t apply on a web forum.)

    Being a good listener can show respect, but it also demonstrates willingness to learn, even if you feel angry towards them. Missing pieces come into play, and that added information can change the whole “gravity” of the situation.

    Good for rude questions too

    Have you, especially if you’re a woman, been asked about your weight by a stranger? It’s almost always nosy and intrusive, and you may be asking yourself, “Why are they asking me?” In which case, you might as well say it out loud, firmly but pleasantly:

    “Why do you ask?”

    Their response will help clarify their intent, their motivation behind asking you. Whether it was out of sheer curiosity or veiled prejudice popping to the surface, you’ll hopefully now know.

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    I’ve heard this to-the-point technique used with great effect by several of my friends, and it serves the purpose of putting them in a position to explain themselves, instead of making you feel awkward.

    I know when it’s not easy

    There may be times on the Net when you’re paragraphs-deep into a response that’ll wear out your scroll wheel and (maybe) prove you’re right. But you know what? You won’t, can’t succeed in changing minds by force. You present why you believe something, and it’s more likely the other person will change their own mind. Certainly, you can be a positive influence, but you aren’t doing a Jedi Mind Trick. (Although some of us wish we could.)

    Jedi Council 2007 by Zeetz Jones.

      Photo by Zeetz Jones

      In really tense times, you may find it difficult to be the better person and humble yourself. You may find it hard to even ask “Why?”, and fall back on assuming the other person is just a jackass.

      But oh, how often I’ve been wrong because of that: we all have our bad days. It’s a shame when two people have a bad day and ram into each other (whether physically, textually, or otherwise) and assault each other — just makes the day worse.

      (Some people are jerks. But you shouldn’t leap to that conclusion without a quick-yet-reliable “barometer of intent”.)

      Truth: it’s unarguably better to brighten someone else’s day, and enrich your own too. Which is another reason why determining intent is so important.

      There’s an anecdote I love, and you may’ve heard it before — if so, great! Everyone should keep this fresh in mind:

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      A man and his daughter are on a bus, and the little girl is bawling her eyes out and making a racket. Everyone can hear it, and an angry lady in the back goes, “Hmph! What a badly-behaved child. Must be an awful father who can’t control his young.”

      So angry lady barges forward and gets into a confrontation. She does not ask. She does not exhibit the slightest iota of curiosity. She barks, “Tell your kid to shut up! She’s disturbing everyone!”

      Of course she is.

      But what angry lady doesn’t know is the girl’s mother, the man’s wife, was just in a severe car accident and following an extended stay, they’re on their way home from the hospital. (They aren’t in a car because the family vehicle was ruined beyond recognition.)

      The chances of you coming across a situation exactly like that would be rare, I hope, but it concisely illustrates why determining intent, motivation, and context are so important. Intent can be thought of as pre-action, and while I’m sure the little girl didn’t have much control over her emotions at the moment, her tears undeniably happened because her mum just passed away.

      But yes, I know it’s not easy.

      You’ll have to practice, like I have. It does become easier with experience — doing it lots, over and over. Living life. As each & all of us do.

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      Sunset & the Thinker by Esparta.

        Photo by Esparta

        Remember that: pre-action

        Intent includes ideas. Execution of ideas springs forth from that bedrock. Thinkers who intend to do something, then get it done.

        The end result may be the “final destination” of the journey of an idea, but is impossible without the road traveled. I’m not being over-philosophical, I’m merely demonstrating the process of human behavior.

        We all have feelings we don’t act on. Conversely, we have actions we didn’t think much about (and there’s healthy and unhealthy varieties of impulsive behavior). But somewhere in the middle, towards the beginning, is our intent, and the intent remains valid (and admissible in a court of law, as premeditated murder makes clear), even if an action is carried out. And in case you’re wondering, since it is a famous quip, good intentions only pave the “road to hell” if you don’t live up to your actions.

        We can’t easily forget pain. As we continue to unravel the mystery of the human brain, some recent studies have even shown that hurt feelings are worse than pain. Conclusively, we don’t know yet. But I do know that a quick-check of someone’s intent, up-front, will be the fulcrum on which your future communication turns. If someone blatantly doesn’t answer earnestly or insults you back unreasonably, then no shared discussion can take place — at least, not for now. Perhaps they’ll cool down, change their intention to butt heads, and apologize. Perhaps not.

        But regardless of external circumstances, the fact remains: you’re in control of yourself, and you can distance yourself and engage in conversations where you’ve determined the intent is beneficial for everyone involved.

        “Intent is not a thought, or an object, or a wish. Intent is what can make a man succeed when his thoughts tell him that he is defeated. It operates in spite of the warrior’s indulgence. Intent is what makes him invulnerable. Intent is what sends a shaman through a wall, through space, to infinity.” -Carlos Castaneda

        That applies to women, too. I wish the English language had better pronouns.

        Best of hope — and in the comments, as I like to say, unleash your stories of intent!

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        Last Updated on October 14, 2019

        12 Inspirational Speeches That Teach You the Most Valuable Life Lessons

        12 Inspirational Speeches That Teach You the Most Valuable Life Lessons

        The most valuable thing an experienced person has is their experience. People make mistakes, learn from them, and adapt their life around them to become better people. Those people would then tell tales to others to help teach those lessons so that others would not have to make the same mistakes.

        People still tell these stories today but in a slightly different format — they use speeches to express their experiences. Here are some valuable life lessons you can learn from some of the greatest inspirational speeches:

        1. JK Rowling teaches us to not fear failure no matter how bad things become

        It is a well-known fact that JK Rowling’s now-famous Harry Potter series was turned down by several publishers before it was finally picked up. Those publishers are likely kicking themselves in the pants right now. However, before that, JK Rowling was in a fairly dire situation and was on the brink of failure. Despite being turned down time and time again, she kept trying. Her efforts paid off. Harry Potter is now a ubiquitous character in today’s world culture. Despite failing over and over again, Rowling kept trying and fulfilled her dreams. You can watch her deliver some valuable life lessons in her Harvard commencement speech video above.

        2. Steve Jobs teaches us to never settle

        Steve Jobs had a fairly tumultuous life. He co-founded Apple, was kicked out of the company, came back, and then re-defined the mobile phone space with the iPhone. Even if iPhones aren’t the rage they once were, its iconic value is forever written in stone. One thing Jobs never did was settle. He lived life on his own terms and was rewarded for it by being dubbed one of the most revolutionary voices in technology of our time. In the Stanford commencement speech above, Jobs explains how you should never settle for what someone else wants out of your life. It’s your life and you should do what you want with it.

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        3. Admiral William H McRaven teaches us to make our beds every day

        Anyone who has gone through the basic training of a military service will tell you it’s pretty difficult. However, every seemingly obnoxious step is actually a life lesson in disguise. This even applies to flawlessly making one’s bed every single morning. As Admiral William H McRaven teaches us, recruits are taught to make their beds every morning to remind them that even the little things in life matter. After all, how can you be expected to handle the biggest obstacles in your life if you can’t even handle the small and the mundane like making your bed every day? You can watch the entire speech in the video above.

        4. Author David Foster Wallace teaches us that we’re a part of a greater existence

        David Foster Wallace found fame in 1987 with his book The Broom of the System. Nearly 20 years later in 2005 he game a commencement speech at Kenyon College that is worth listening to at least once. In his speech, he reminds us that was are but a part of a huge, dynamic, ever changing interaction of life forms. In order to truly experience life, we need to leave our personal bubbles and interact with others even if it’s in an unpleasant way. Wallace states, “It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.” You can watch the whole speech above.

        5. Stephen Colbert teaches us that life isn’t something you can plan

        If there is anyone who knows about improvisation, it’s comedian Stephen Colbert. In his commencement speech at Northwestern University in 2011, Colbert reminded students that you cannot plan life. Life throws too many curve balls. There are too many unpredictable things that can happen. The most successful and happy people are not those who have a plan, but those who can roll with the punches and overcome the obstacles. He goes on to site his time as an improv comic and how all of the actors working together to create a scene out of literally nothing are all working for one another. He states that like improv comedy, you don’t know what happens next in life. You just make it up as you go along. You can watch the whole speech above.

        6. Kurt Vonnegut teaches us to not sweat the small stuff

        Some of our younger readers may not know Kurt Vonnegut. He is a famous author that found of of his success during the middle of last century. In 1999, Kurt Vonnegut was at Agnes Scott College giving a commencement speech. During the speech, he mentioned that in order to live a more complete life, people needed to let stuff go. He argued that you cannot reasonably expect others to forgive you for your mistakes if you cannot forgive others and that you cannot live life fostering a personal vendetta against others.

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        7. Neil Gaiman teaches us that success can be distracting.

        Neil Gaiman is most known for his work in a number of literary mediums including journalism, comic books, and novels. In 2012, Gaiman gave a speech at the University of the Arts where he talked about success. He stated that when you become successful, you may be unintentionally swayed from performing the actions that made you successful. Gaiman recalled his early success and how he felt pressured to answer emails all day long and it actually prevented him from writing as much as he wanted. So he reminds us to keep doing what makes us successful and to not let others get in the way.

        8. Barack Obama’s life lessons teaches us that you really can beat the odds

        We know that not everyone likes Barack Obama but that doesn’t mean the man can’t deliver an amazing speech. In this 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convenction, Obama reminds that it is possible to beat the odds and become something great. He cites his own upbringing as an example and how he was never expected to make it as far as he did. It shows that when you’re passionate about something and when you try hard enough, you can accomplish almost anything. It’s important to note that Obama talks about this in 2004 and would become the President of the United States just four years later.

        9. Robin Roberts reminds us that we each have the courage to overcome challenges

        Robin Roberts knows a thing or two about courage. She is a breast cancer survivor and has done battle with a rare blood disease called myelodysplastic syndrome. Her sister once had to donate bone marrow just so Robin could remain alive. She was also ESPN’s first African American broadcaster in the early 1990’s. She’s a woman who works in an industry predominately populated by men. So when Robin Roberts takes the stage at the ESPYs and delivers a short lecture on having courage, we would do well to listen!

        10. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that some things are more important than success

        We all know the story of Martin Luther King Jr. So much so that we have a day of the year to celebrate him as a national holiday here in the United States. Most of us have listening to segments of his famous speech where he told the world about a dream he had. The main message of his famous speech is that racial inequalities needed to end and he was absolutely right. However, he also reminds us that there are things that are more important than success such as equal rights and treating each other with respect and kindness. If you somehow made it through school without watching the famous speech, we’ve got it linked above.

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        11. Jim Carrey reminds us that even if you keep it safe, you can still fail so you might as well go big

        Jim Carrey delivered a commencement speech at Maharishi University recently that went absolutely viral. You may know it as the one minute video that will change your life. They weren’t lying but they weren’t telling the whole truth because the speech was actually 28 minutes long. During the speech, Carrey talks about his father who wanted to be a comedian but decided to take the safe route and become an accountant. As it turns out, his father was laid off and his family ended up poor anyway. With that, Carrey tells us that you can still end up failing even if you play it safe so you might as well swing for the fences and do what you want to do.

        12. Bill Murray teaches us that it’s the hard times that determine if someone really loves you

        You may have heard the story about Bill Murray crashing someone’s bachelor party and delivering a speech. It turns out the speech was both short and fairly epic. During the speech, Bill Murray challenged the bachelors to travel around the world with the women they love and go to places that are difficult to go to and deal with. He says if you can get back to the United States and you still love each other, then you should get married right then and there. It’s a great message. It’s easy to love one another when times are good but do you still love each other when the times are bad? If so, that’s true love according to Bill Murray.

        Final thoughts

        Inspiration comes from everywhere and from anyone. There are a countless number of speeches and stories that can teach us an incalculable number of life lessons.

        All these speeches almost share the same message: Don’t be afraid to fail and keep trying.

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        If you also want to live your best life like the above successful people, this is what you should start doing:

        You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

        At the end of the day, everything is inspirational. It’s just a matter of finding the message that we need to hear to change our lives.

        Featured photo credit: Miguel Henriques via unsplash.com

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