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Intent vs. Impact

,,,,,,Owen Honors,,,,,,

When current events intersect with training programs, it’s usually a fluke. Still, it works to my advantage to bring real life into the training room because my programs are intended to have real life applications back on the job.

Last week it was Captain Owen Honors who made the news. His video tapes intended only for the crew of the USS Enterprise but viewed on the internet hit the news cycle the same week I conducted a program entitled Communicating Effectively for a Diverse Workforce.  The conversations that resulted from the interactive exercises and key discussion points were valuable. Learning points were developed into take-aways and strategies.


Especially prescient was the discussion about the difference between Intent vs. Impact.

An example I offered:

I threw a party and everyone here was invited except Kathy. Kathy came to me to tell me that I had really hurt her feelings and that our relationship was irrevocably damaged as a result. I explained to her that I thought the people who were invited to the party were actually pretty boring. Not wanting to have her suffer through a gathering of uninteresting people or need to come up with an excuse about not being able to attend, I thought I was saving her from a dull evening.

  • My intention? Honorable.
  • The Impact? Hurtful.

This past weekends’ shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona resulted in a lots of media speculation about the increase of vitriol in the levels of political discourse. The not-unexpected result was a defensive response: amped up rhetoric does not cause people to grab their guns and shoot the opposition.  The intent of those who ratchet up the ‘lock and load’ metaphors is not to get people to actually ‘lock and load.’

  • The intention?  Whether it was honorable or not may be up for debate.
  • The impact? Catastrophic

In the program last week I was asked by a participant if I actually changed my language or the way I spoke because someone was offended. What if it was only one person in a room of many (maybe even hundreds) who was offended, they asked.

While I’m not the CEO and I don’t set the tone of the organizational culture the way senior management does, I know that some people look to me to model behavior and walk the talk. I thought about how I behave publically and privately and the words I use. I told the program participants that I was always learning about what hurt someone or offended someone. I didn’t always know though I hoped those who were uncomfortable with my choices would tell me (Yes, they do!)

I’m in the business of effective communication. My goal is to get clients, help them, and keep them.  If that means shifting some of the words I use when I work, then I will. If that means monitoring what I say, when I say it, where I say it, to whom and how, then I will try doing that to the best of my ability.  I’m a professional and that means behaving professionally when I’m at work. It’s not about what’s easiest for me – it’s about what’s best for my client.

Think about the impact of your words and actions, not only your intention. It’s the impact people live with.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 10th, 2011 at 1:32 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.