Learning to own the impact we have on others is essential to developing effective personal and professional relationships. Being defensive and placing blame are common tactics that only escalate misunderstandings and conflict. When we place blame, it prevents us from accepting the role we play, no matter how large or small, and creates an obstacle to resolving the problem (and your feelings). Despite our best intentions, misunderstandings do occur so taking responsibility for the impact gets you closer to a resolution.
The perspective and practice I’m introducing today I learned from a book by Ronald R. Short, Learning in Relationship: Foundation for Personal and Professional Success. It is a powerful concept about intention and impact he calls Mutual Inquiry. Today, I call it my “Golden Nugget” because it is a small piece of information that has proven to be extremely valuable. When practiced, the Golden Nugget offers a simple and easy way to avoid or resolve conflict, and to own the impact we have on other people. Today, I’m offering my condensed version. Here is how it works:
• In communication, the sender has an intention; a purpose for the communication. This communication has an impact on the receiver.
• Misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and conflict arise when there is a gap between our intention and our impact….when what we “meant” to communicate doesn’t happen and is misunderstood.
• When this happens, we judge ourselves by our intention…I didn’t mean to so don’t be upset...you’ve said this before, right?
• And when we are the receiver, we judge others by their impact…if you hurt me, I don’t care what you meant; I’m still hurt!
• To resolve the misunderstanding and accept the truth, we must judge ourselves by our impact (own it and take responsibility), and judge others by their intention (accept their truth).
There is a basic inequity when we judge others differently from ourselves, and rarely are we even aware of this inequity. Accepting the impact of your words or behavior, puts you in a better position to resolve the conflict. It affords the opportunity to apologize, clarify the intention, and validate the experience or feelings of the other person. And conversely, when you accept someone’s true intention and forgive them for the impact, it allows the relationship to move forward.
Now, there is no guarantee that you will always get the result you want when applying Mutual Inquiry. We cannot control how others behave; we only have control of our own behavior. Mutual Inquiry is a perspective and practice that when applied increases YOUR ability to more easily understand the conflict, find the learning opportunity, and own the impact you have on others. Ronald R. Short writes, “Mutual Inquiry does not make all of your relationships hum perfectly or resolve all your difficulties…Mutual inquiry is, at its core, a method to learn what is true-about you, about the other person, and about your relationship now (p.68).”
Give it a try and let me know if you see a difference in your own experience.
Want to know more about Mutual Inquiry?
If you are looking to improve your how you communicate and work with others I strongly encourage you to read Learning in Relationship: Foundation for Personal and Professional Success. Its an easy read with practical examples and visuals to exemplify communication strategies.