Intention versus Impact

Categories: Behavior change, Employee Engagement, Feedback, Leadership, ReinforcementAuthor:

We tend to judge ourselves by our intentions; others judge us by the impact of our behavior.  This makes sense, I don’t know anyone who can read minds so it’s difficult for others to know our intentions but it is easy for them to observe our behavior.  And, if our behavior and intentions don’t seem to match, people are going to believe the behavior no matter what intentions we state.

This means that we can’t just tune into what we hope to accomplish, we need to be good at observing the downstream impact of our behavior.  I have seen numerous examples of managers with good intentions having a negative downstream impact.

For example, many managers intend to make it clear that “safety is a value” but the paperwork and meetings they add to reflect that intention just cause frustration.  Other managers may work hard to avoid micromanaging but come across as not caring.

Here are some simple situations for you to try:

Intention: Positively reinforce behavior                                             
Behavior:  Publicly praise the person 
Impact: ?????

Intention: Give spouse a great gift                                             
Behavior:  Give spouse a fancy new vacuum
Impact: ?????

Intention: Write a thoughtful response to an email
Behavior:  Respond to the email three days later
Impact: ?????

In each of those situations, the impact may have been positive or it may have been negative depending on the person and context.

It is a good idea to articulate your intention along with the behavior so people know what you hope to accomplish and consider giving you some feedback on whether you are over the target.  This might not always be possible, which is why it is important to also get really good at observing what happens after you behave.  The only way to know if you did well is to pay attention to the way others respond, ask, and create the conditions where people will be honest when you do ask.

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