Unintentional Communication
By: Nancy
November 19, 2014


As parents, spouses, friends, and family members, we often communicate unintentional messages that get us into trouble! To make matters worse, our partners have “guessers” that are programmed by past hurts and a world view based on their experiences. (Please see another blog on not trusting your “guesser” here). The truth is that it takes a tremendous amount of effort and skill to send messages well, and a whole lot of understanding and grace to receive those messages well…and even people who are really good at both still have conflict. So what can be done to improve the chances that unintentional messages are sent and received less frequently and more safely?

The Sender

First let’s talk about sending messages. How many times haven’t we all sent messages that were received how we didn’t mean, for various reasons? Tons, right? Like 157 times TODAY?   It’s not uncommon at all. Some of these reasons can include not taking the time to choose words carefully, not having a handle on our tone, being angry, wanting to defend ourselves or cut off someone who has hurt us, being rushed or tired, or just being straight up unaware of how we’re coming across. All of these can make sending an unintentional message very easy to do.

The Receiver

The receiver of any message has just as much responsibility in making sure messages are communicated effectively as the sender does. Many times receivers of messages twist and turn meanings based on hurts in their hearts and what they expect to hear. What about someone who has deep, core shame issues? They will assume and filter messages through a lens that says the other person thinks they are wrong and bad in some way. This may not be even remotely what the other person is trying to say, but the expectation clouds the actual message. We are super quick to believe any message that we perceive agrees with the shame voice in our own heads, whether the sender meant to send that message or not. We receive and interpret messages through our own world view, which can cause all kinds of miscommunication.

The Solution

Becoming careful, and even vigilant, about how we send messages is critical. How we send messages is almost always more important than what the message is. Concentrating on body language, tone of voice, word choice, and transparency of intent as well as consideration for the sensitivities of the receiver (if you know them) should always be a focus of the sender. For the receiver, suspending the idea that the person who is talking to us is consciously trying to hurt us, using confirmation statements such as “this is what I heard, is that what you really meant?”, controlling reactivity, mirroring, and listening to understand instead of to respond are all crucial to keeping unintentional messages to a minimum. Invariably, a painful exchange can be dissected to reveal no malicious intent almost every time. If the time is taken to communicate carefully and figure it out, many conflictual exchanges can be diverted before they get super-heated.


Imago Dialogue is one great modality for practicing this kind of communication. When supported by insights from a skilled therapist and done in a safe place to practice it, connection can be achieved even between people who are quite angry and hurting, and even through hyper-sensitive topics. Sound good? It is! Come in and we can work together to practice communicating intentionally and building connections even through conflict. It is possible, and amazing, and it works! Drop me a line at [email protected] and we’ll set up an appointment to get started.

Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038

© 2014 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW

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