I Didn’t Mean it That Way

Cinergy Coaching by Cinnie Noble

It seems statements that go like, “I didn’t mean it that way” are ones we use when something we said or how we said it is misinterpreted by another person and offends her or him. Or, it may be a gesture that is misread. In either case, as a consequence of the other person’s reaction to us and the realization that our words or actions are perceived in a way that is not intended, we attempt to defend ourselves and explain what we meant. This is when we may utter phrases like, “I didn’t mean it that way”.

Sometimes we know we are conveying a challenging message. We want it to be received as a constructive sentiment or observation and yet, we are aware – no matter how hard we try to come across in a well-meaning way – our intent may be perceived as undermining and hurtful. The thing is too, due to discomforts about giving feedback, pointing out a problem, or initiating other such conversations, not all of us always communicate as well and tactfully as we would like. We may sound blameful or demeaning due to nervousness and lack of skill.

On the receiving end, anything that smacks of criticism for some of us can be difficult to take in, regardless of the speaker’s motive. Or, guilt, sensitivities about making mistakes, needing or wanting to have approval, and being defensive by nature or when it comes to specific situations or persons, are other possible explanations for defensive reactions. It is an overstatement to say that these and variations of what may occur in our communications are complex and have the potential for leading to unnecessary conflict.

This week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) blog explores this statement –“I didn’t mean it that way” – for those who say it and those who hear it said to you.

If you recall using the statement “I didn’t mean it that way” (or something to that effect), what were the circumstances, i.e. what did you say or do to which the other person reacted?

What did you intend that was misinterpreted?

How did the other person hear what you said from what you can tell or from what she or he said or did in response?

What do you think the other person did not understand about what you meant, if applicable?

What could you have said or done differently that may not have resulted in the same reaction in that circumstance?

When someone has said “I didn’t mean it that way” (or something to that effect) to you in a specific situation, to what specifically were you responding? What was your reaction at that time?

What was the impact of the person’s statement on you?

What did you perceive as her or his intent? What do you know about her or his intent for sure? What do you not know?

Thinking about it now, what may you have misinterpreted in what the person said?

What lessons are there to be learned from interactions of the nature raised in this week’s blog.


Cinnie Noble

Cinnie Noble is a certified coach (PCC) and mediator and a former lawyer specializing in conflict management coaching. She is the author of two coaching books: Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model and Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You. MORE >

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