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Communicating and Resolving Intent vs Impact in the Workplace

How many times have you said, “That’s not what I meant!” We’ve all said this many times over. This is usually our response when a friend, coworker, boss, relative, client, or classmate responds negatively to something we had no malicious intent about.

Intent is what we mean by our words or actions.

Impact is what someone else feels by those words or actions.

So what’s more important? Your intent? Or the (negative) impact you had on someone? That space, or gap, leads to significant misunderstandings, creating hurt feelings on one side, as well as bewilderment and defensiveness on the other. We understand and forgive bewilderment, especially if it triggers curious questions and a desire to listen and learn. Defensiveness triggers a more significant annoyance by the impacted party.

Miscommunication is inevitable because we each have different thoughts, feelings, and emotions about right and wrong, good and evil, and what’s “normal” from the point of view of our E.N.R.I.C.H (Ethnicity, Nationality, Race, Identity, Culture, and Heritage). Self-awareness is key to acknowledging - and taking responsibility for - how our unintended ignorance may have negatively impacted someone.

So, the next time you find yourself saying, “That’s not what I meant!” pause, check yourself, listen, acknowledge what’s the impacted person is saying to you…and resist the need to defend yourself.

If you are the person negatively impacted by the comment, or action, be aware that going on the attack is not helpful. Explaining and advocating is. Set aside judgment of this person’s character or moral being and your instinct to judge this person as “good” or “bad.” If you attack in anger, you are likely to provoke a defensive posture in the other person. So, explain and advocate assertively.

Remember, bias is often unconscious, diversity is often uninclusive, and microaggression is frequently unintentional. So listen.

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