Intent and Impact at a Workplace

Aligning Intention with Impact

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There is no way to live on this earth and never harm anyone. Our intentions don’t always align with what we say or do, and this can impact how others receive what we say or do. 0

When it comes to intention and impact, keep in mind that these are two independent topics. Using intent to justify impact might make the individual who has been harmed or hurt feel invisible or unheard.

Our intention may be motivated by a desire to assist, to be useful, to alleviate pain and suffering, but there are numerous scenarios in which our efforts to be helpful may annoy someone else, potentially escalating their suffering. The majority of us have been on the receiving end of this, for example, when friends and family members offer us unsolicited advice with the best of intentions.

As it turns out, being a “good” human being according to our standards is insufficient. Prioritizing intent over impact is far too reductionist in our interdependent and increasingly complex and entropic world.

Intent and Impact at a Workplace

In the workplace, intent and impact have the power to either strengthen or weaken relationships. Intent is concerned with the meaning or significance of an action. On the other hand, impact refers to an action’s resulting influence or effect.

Each day, colleagues interact, resulting in a variety of outcomes from their actions. These outcomes can have a variety of consequences for individuals, but few take the time to consider the thoughts or intentions behind those actions.

On a personal level, time must be carefully allocated for thinking and processing information prior to making decisions, writing emails, speaking out in meetings, and communicating with others, among other activities. This may seem straightforward in theory, but in practise, society moves so quickly in the workplace, with so many competing priorities, that individuals feel pressed for time. If they understood that considering impacts and intentions has the potential to strengthen or destroy a relationship, the time investment required to do so would be negligible.

Pause and Think

Consider how different the workplace would be if everyone took 30 seconds to think about the consequences of their words and actions before responding.

Examine the previous three disputes, difficulties, or unfavourable circumstances you’ve had, and whether the incident was caused by your actions or the activities of the other person. You’d definitely agree that it was because of your own actions. As what happens when a person is triggered differs dramatically from what happens once our thinking brain kicks in and takes charge.

Whatever we say and do, regardless of our intentions, has a wide range of societal consequences. Even we are unaware of them. Here are some thoughts we should consider to fully understand intent and impact:

1. You can’t dictate how someone reacts to your responses. 

It’s not your fault if someone reacts the way they do. Simply because you have good intentions does not mean they will always respond positively. We all come from various backgrounds, and our social identities influence how we perceive the world. For many people, life experiences can feel and be difficult, and it can be a lot to bear at times.

2. Seek support from people you trust to share your experiences with.

Depending on your career level and employer, you may be able to report instances of oppression to human resources or your manager. If you are concerned about your safety or do not wish to draw attention to an incident, connect with friends, family, a community group, or someone else with whom you feel comfortable sharing your experiences.

3. It’s not your job to teach.

You can choose to explain why something someone said or did was wrong, depending on the relationship and the situation, but this is entirely up to you and you are not obligated to do so. These conversations can be challenging, and each of us will react differently to what someone says or does.

4. Understand the social, cultural, and political world we live in. 

Our social identities shape our daily interactions and how we present ourselves when our intentions and impact diverge. The more aware we are and the more actively we practise the tips above, the more capable we will all be of having more meaningful conversations.

The Conflict between Intent and Impact for a Leader

Individuals have a very different perception of their own behaviours than others do. Our own behaviours are viewed as situational, whereas other people’s behaviours are attr.ibuted to their personality or character. Additionally, what motivates one person may aggravate another. In both of these instances, a true leader recognises the importance of change and flexibility, while many of their team members prioritise stability and consistency.

Conflict arises as a result of inadequate or non-existent communication and understanding. Intention and outcome are frequently at the heart of a conflict. Two levels of communication are occurring concurrently: the person centralising intent is tenaciously defending their identity, while the person feeling the impact is daintily focusing on improving what was said or done (or not said or done).

Conscious compartmentalization may be beneficial here in order to distinguish who we are (our intent) from what we say or do (our impact), as well as to help cohere the duality of being “good” while occasionally saying or doing something “bad.” Only with this recognition can space for learning, resolution, and relationship be created. Here are some suggestions for resolving the conflict as a leader: –

  • Most importantly, keep in mind that not everyone sees things the same way you do, feels the same way you do, or interprets the world the same way you do. Consider the perspectives of various individuals on issues such as change, motivation, structure, process, big picture, and small details.
  • Seek input from your team on the objectives you’re pursuing, and pay attention to their responses. If you believe they will not be completely candid, ask your human resources partner to collect and represent the information.
  • Consider the following: “Am I frustrated that, despite my best efforts, nothing is moving in the direction I desire?” If the answer is yes, you may be dealing with an intent vs. impact situation rather than an intent and impact situation.
  • Try a thought experiment – Consider what would happen if you did the opposite of what you have been doing. If you’ve been pressuring people, what would happen if you rewarded them for what they’ve already accomplished? If you have been unsuccessful in advocating for your point of view, what would happen if you listened to the points of view of others? If you’ve been advocating for change, consider what would happen if you emphasised what remains constant in their environment.

Harmony between Intent and Impact

While dissociating intent from impact is critical in interpersonal conflict, there are also enormous implications for how we make social, political, and economic decisions in the world when we prioritise intent. Many billionaires, entrepreneurs, scientists, and political leaders began their careers with good, decent, or at the very least neutral intentions, but their failure to weigh and account for the impact of their businesses, products, theories, and visions over time jeopardises their reputations and makes them easy to crucify in public.

When we are on the receiving end of someone else’s alleged intent, particularly those with greater social standing or power, we become suspicious and condemnatory, valuing impact over intent.

Can we pause in those moments of bursting — however large or small — when there is a break in our interconnectivity and ask ourselves what we are protecting? And in that protection, what might we be foreclosing prematurely?

Can we pause and reconcile our aim with our impact when we make decisions — no matter how big or small — by reflecting on and recognising the implications of what we say and do?

We should consider that pursuing this level of coherence between our intent and impact — one that allows for feedback from others — is critical for a more harmonious society and world.

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