We would all have examples of a time we have intended to make someone laugh but the impact of our joke is hurt, anger and conflict. What started out as a light-hearted moment became heated and heavy.

A friend has been having in-home nursing, every day for the last four months. One day, a new nurse arrived. They introduced themselves and entered my friend’s home. Sessions went for 30 to 45 minutes and the nurse left their coat on the whole time. The nurse was cold and found it difficult to work; my friend felt that the nurse didn’t want to be there and wasn’t staying. She became very uncomfortable and ended up making a complaint about the nurse. The nurse’s intent was to stay warm so they could work to the best of their ability – the impact was a ‘please explain’ session between the nurse and their supervisor and an upset client.

This could have been avoided if:

  • my friend had turned the heater on,
  • the nurse had explained they were cold and asked permission to wear the coat
  • the nurse took the coat off despite feeling cold.

Issues and difficulties

The nurse and my friend had two issues:

  1. They didn’t communicate and speak to one another about what was happening.
  2. The Impact did not reflect the intent.

It is often difficult to explain your intent, (what you think you are doing) and difficult to know how someone is going to perceive your action’s. Some of the difficulty arises due to:

  • Time pressure – explaining everything takes time and direct care staff are often time poor. However, thought needs to be given to the time that would be required to resolve a negative impact.  In the example above, time had to be found to talk to the supervisor about the complaint and then meet with the client.
  • Different cultural understandings or standards: The client in this situation had been raised with the firm belief, that it is disrespectful to wear a coat inside the home.
  • The context of the situation wasn’t agreed on: the client saw the nurse coming into their home first, the nurse saw the job first.

Resolving the matter

How often do you find yourself saying “but I didn’t mean that.” or wondering why the person got angry or didn’t smile at your joke?  When this happens and it looks like there is going to be conflict or the loss of a relationship, there are a few things you can do:

what you don’t do is say:

  • “I’m sorry but……”,
  • “if you only….”
  • “I’m sorry if…..”.

These types of phrases are looking to lay blame and usually make things worse. Instead, focus on resolving the matter, not pushing the other person to accept responsibility. This can be done by:

  1. Genuinely apologising or acknowledging the impact that your words or actions had.
  2. Focusing on the feelings of the ‘hurt’ person. Even though you might feel bad when you are told you have done something wrong, particularly if you don’t agree, moving forward in the relationship requires acknowledgement and a demonstration of learning.
  3. Having a discussion where you agree a goal of understanding one another.  This is achieved through active listening and repeating back what you have heard.
  4. Be aware of the context – in someone’s home, their standards and practices come first –  you may never agree with them, but you follow them.

Intent versus impact is complex and present in everyday life. Be prepared to listen, be aware of the context and focus on the impact as a hurt needs to be addressed first before a conflict can be resolved.