Being Intentional Makes For Better Communication
The power of intentionality has been trending lately, and I am here for it. In a world filled with distractions and constant demands for our attention, being intentional has become more important than ever. Being intentional means actively choosing and directing your thoughts, actions, and energy towards the things that align with your values, goals, and overall well-being. It involves living with purpose, mindfulness, and a conscious awareness of the present moment. So what does this look like in communication?
Before I answer that question, I'd like to note that there is a lot of talk about Nonviolent Communication (NVC) on this blog, and I'm going to call on it once again here. Nonviolent Communication is a method of communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg that removes blame and judgement from language and focuses on connection with other (or sometimes self). NVC is a great tool for conflict resolution, but also just general connection. It teaches one how to truly give empathy without diving into giving advice, relating, trying to fix the problem, or anything else people often do or say when someone else is suffering. Nonviolent communication utilizes a process that focuses on observations, feelings, fundamental human needs, and requests. If you'd like to learn more bout this process, please check out our Intro to Nonviolent Communication course.
Okay. Back to intentionality in language.
As someone who teaches NVC, I often hear questions like “Why didn’t my son clean his room? I gave him empathy, I expressed, and made the perfect action request. I don’t think this process works”, or “I tried to use NVC on my spouse, but they keep doing [insert undesirable activity]”. My answer to these types of frustrations is always the same: what was your intention?
Why did you give your son empathy? Was it because you want connection with him, or was it because you want his room clean and that’s the step you’re “supposed” to take before making an action request?
Were you using NVC with your spouse because you want to better understand them, and them you, or was it the means to get them to do or not do something?
People can often pick up on this kind of thing, and they may interpret you as inauthentic, or even manipulative.
See what I’m getting at here? Nonviolent communication is not a life hack that gets people to do what you want, and if you try to use it in that way, it likely won’t work. People often can pick up on this kind of thing, and they may interpret you as inauthentic, or even manipulative. I think this is the biggest issue people have with NVC, actually. I’ve often heard the critique that NVC is manipulative, but what is really happening is the intention behind it is all off. In fact, when one’s intention is anything but connection, I wouldn’t even call it NVC anymore. It may look and sound like NVC, but if there’s an ulterior motive, we have moved into violent language territory.
When you align your language with an intention of connection, and that is received by others, trust is built. Alternatively, if you present as if you want connection, but you really want a clean kitchen, you may end up damaging any trust within that relationship.
Also, just a quick note on language subtleties. If you think about using NVC “on” someone, your intention probably is not connection. Often, the preposition says a lot.
You certainly do not need to use NVC in order to communicate with intention. Being intentional in your language can be in any situation. When using NVC, the primary intention is connection, but there are other situations in which your intention may be something else, like effectiveness or safety. The key here is knowing why you are communicating whatever it is you are communicating. Being intentional is really just knowing your goal for communication and keeping your language and thoughts in line with that goal.
When there is a disconnect between what you say and what you intend, that's when you might hear accusations of being "inauthentic" or "manipulative". Additionally, this disconnect could cause confusion for others, and maybe even yourself. Aligning your language with your intention will often translate to authenticity, which will likely gain you respect from others. Some may even see it as a sign of competence or trustworthiness. It isn't always feasible to take time to connect with yourself to find out what your intentions are in any given conversation, but practicing when you can helps to build the habit of doing so.