Why it’s not about your good intentions.

I have had three conversations this very week where I shared direct feedback on problematic behavior, and the theme of the responses has been the same:

But that person has good intentions.

He/she didn’t mean it.

He/she just has a rough/tough/{insert cultural reference here} personality.

He/she is just misunderstood.

He/she is just so passionate about technology.

I’m here to tell you that the INTENTION doesn’t matter.

What matters is the IMPACT.

When we make it about intention, we absolve the person of responsibility. We say, as long as the person “means well,” then the behavior is excused.

When we make it about impact, we focus on the receiver. We acknowledge felt feelings. We acknowledge the impact, whether it was intended or not.

As we interact with the world, we have impact on our surroundings. In order to be an effective influencer, collaborator, teammate, and leader, we need to change the orientation of our focus from our right to do and say whatever we want in the name of company/technology/America/{insert your righteous excuse here}, to the reality of how our acts and words land on others. If our words miss the mark, if they do not land the way we intend, then the onus is on us to change the way we communicate to align our intent with the actual impact.

This is why direct feedback is important. We have an inherent inability to see ourselves well. Our family, friends, and coworkers are the ones who can mirror our behavior to us and show us the actual impact so that we can see it, and then do the hard work to make sure our intention and our impact are perfectly aligned.

Next time you hear or give feedback, be sure to focus on the impact, not the intent.

Two more articles about this subject:
Scientific American: “But I didn’t mean it!” Why it’s so hard to prioritize impacts over intents.

Washington Post: The racism of good intentions (An article about Dr. Ibram X. Kendi book “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” )


Photo by Johannes Krupinski on Unsplash

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