Sometimes we forget that people are only human. And being only human, we spend much of our days thinking about ourselves. Yet despite that we all do this, we expect that other people are thinking about us, and not just about themselves.
This means we are quick to make assumptions about the actions of those around us. And those assumptions are, of course, based on our own beliefs and experiences.
It’s a valuable work – and life – skill to learn the difference between intent and interpretation.
Intent: The person’s aim, plan, or purpose for their words, behaviour or actions.
Interpretation: What we believe to be the meaning of their words, behaviour or actions.
More times than not, a person’s intent has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them. Our interpretation, however, usually has everything to do with us.
When a co-worker appears to dismiss your idea in a meeting, you may automatically think it is because they think you and your idea are terrible. However, it is just as likely that they are afraid of the change or work the idea will mean for them.
Two easy ways to gain clearer interpretations are: 1. Ask yourself what evidence you have to support your current viewpoint; and 2. Ask the person questions to gain more understanding.
When we can begin to distance our “me-centered” thinking from the equation, we can achieve an interpretation that is much closer to the real intent, and which will lead to better communication and relationships.