The art of mindful speech

Using intent in our everyday language is beneficial to creating thoughtful communication

Words aren’t just thrown into everyday conversations without purpose. And language doesn’t become communication without reinforcing the intent behind those words.

We don’t think about it a lot, but we use intent in our language all the time, intentionally or unintentionally.

Intent has a lot to do with being “you-centered” rather than being “me-centered" — being "you- centered" is intent that considers others, while being "me-centered" is self-serving.  "You-centered" intent is more productive and beneficial, because you are mindful of how you are coming across in conversations.

Most of us are conscious of intent in our everyday conversations, whether we know it or not. Some of us have even talked about intent in our classrooms.

I first seriously thought about the meaning of intent in my journalism ethics class a few weeks ago, when we were discussing a case study about ethical implications. Reporters from Time Magazine exposed a situation where a man was practicing medicine without a license in his home.

The professor asked the class to respond with thoughts — was this okay for the reporters to do or was there a better way to go about getting this kind of information?

Sitting there as the as the room filled with chatter, I began to wonder if this were ethical or not. I raised my hand and made my case as to why the intent of the reporters mattered. What was the "why" behind the reporters digging up this kind of information?

If the "why" was to purely to further their careers, then ethics might dictate that would be unethical. However, if the "why" was to catch an illegal act in the process and to keep the public safe, then ethics might argue the opposite. The classroom became silent as they critically thought about the reporters' intent.

Why do I bring this up? Only to show that intent can be thought about intentionally. You can live intentionally by reminding yourself to keep others’ feelings in mind throughout the day or by communicating in a conscientious manner. 

Many people know that intent within language is an important facet of communication in general. 

Yet when it comes to their own communication styles, many tend to blame factors outside of intent such as tone of voice, wording and even gender or culture. This is usually done in place of consciousness.

That’s what we should be doing: putting more thought into intentionality and how it plays into our everyday language.

For example, how might President Donald Trump’s tweets appear to people from other countries and cultures? I understand that many Trump supporters appreciate his bluntness, but there is a way for someone to be blunt but also be mindful of how he is coming across to other people.

Nikki Truscelli, a teaching associate and graduate student studying relational communication in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, said that words do matter and said that it is important to be mindful when speaking, whether over social media or in person.

“When we just speak to speak and are not thinking about what our message is, who we’re sending it to, what are the ramifications of sending it — that’s when issues happen,” Truscelli said.

Truscelli said that the medium of conversation matters too. Social media plays a huge role in miscommunication today. This is one of the reasons, Truscelli said, that she doesn’t have social media at all.

Social media isn’t bad — we just need to figure out how to use it intentionally. Twitter only allows for 140 characters per post, so we should always be mindful of what we’re writing in that tweet or Facebook post. You never know when your message could reach someone who could perceive it differently or find it offensive.

“It’s such an important time to be mindful and to have intent with our messages, but I think what we see again and again is that many people don’t,” Truscelli said.

When asked how students can better channel their intentions into words, she said that doing a quick “audience analysis” can be helpful. Just like you’re doing a public speech, get to know your audience a bit.

“Find out what gender pronouns they use. Find out what culture they’re from. Find out what’s normal for them. Ask a couple questions,” Truscelli said.

Much of this comes down to being “you-centered.” Selflessness automatically eliminates much of this issue about intent, because you are thinking before you speak.

When you think intentionally, you just might be able to see the world differently through another culture, another set of eyes.

Expand your mind by thinking before you speak, type, gesture and act. Let intent be the answer and the goal. Together, let’s work toward improving our human communication.

Read more about being intentional with your language here.


Reach the columnist at cliddle2@asu.edu or follow @Crliddle on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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