Managing Intent vs. Impact in the Workplace

Apr 11 2024 | Einblicke
Three colleagues sat together around a coffee table.

Misunderstandings can be detrimental to your workforce. Whether it be between team members, or of a leader’s intentions, it can often lead to dissatisfaction or even disputes. The most common cause of this is a gap between intent and impact in the workplace.

What do we mean by intent and impact?

Intent refers to what a person intends to do, it’s what they have in mind as a goal. At work, this might refer to sharing constructive criticism with a colleague to improve their performance.

Impact refers to the result of those actions, and how the actions are actually perceived. Often, this impact might not be what the intention was. For example, that colleague takes the feedback as criticism, and it knocks their confidence or it upsets them.

Intent vs impact: what’s the difference between them?

The first key difference between intent and impact is: intent is what you want to do, impact is what actually happened. So, in the example above, you may have intended to help your colleague but you ended up hurting them.

A second difference is: intent is how you feel, whereas impact is how you make others feel through your actions. If we take the same example, you felt you were helping your colleague’s performance by giving them feedback, but you actually made them feel critiqued or upset.

You might be asking, but I had good intentions? What else could I have done? This is where communication becomes so important.

Why is communication key to the theory of intent vs impact?

Without effective communication, those good intentions can lead to misunderstandings, which can often result in a gap between intent and impact.

That’s why ensuring there is clear communication in the workplace can help minimize this and sync up intent with impact. Building a culture of having open and honest conversations within a business means that important trust and understanding can be built between colleagues and teams. This culture can help people understand the difference between their colleague’s intent and impact (or actions), embracing constructive conflict and working together to find the most effective solutions.

Intent vs impact in the workplace: what is more important?

In many ways, both are equally important. Intent might sometimes be perceived as the more important of the two, because if someone has the intention of performing well at work, it means they’re willing to work hard, they’re engaged and they care about the results. While these results might not always come to fruition, they’re hard workers, and often increased performance is a result of that.

In other ways, impact is argued to be the most important. Let’s look back at our original example for this. While the intent to give constructive feedback was a positive one, it led to a negative impact, a colleague who felt critiqued. This might cause a lack of self-esteem, and actually might negatively impact their performance or their satisfaction with the company. While the intent was good, the impact was far more important here.

So, we can’t really attribute weight to their importance. In fact, both should be taken equally seriously. And this starts with leadership.

How to lead through intent vs impact?

As a leader, ensuring you’re minimizing the gap between intent and impact, or at least facilitating an understanding of why the gaps exist, is crucial to a harmonious workforce.

Here are a few ways you can help bridge the gap between intent and impact in your workforce as a leader:

1. Promoting conversations between team members

Help colleagues come together and have effective conversations by attempting to understand each other’s views and taking responsibility for their actions when necessary. You might sit in with them on their one-to-one to help guide this conversation.

2. Planning team building exercises to help others understand each other and each other’s perceptions better

Team building helps your teams grow together, bettering relationships and building an understanding of each other, so try to schedule regular sessions.

3. Increasing your own conflict management skills

As a leader, identifying your conflict management style and then developing those skills can be key in managing workplace misunderstandings, like those that appear because of gaps between intent and impact.

4. Building an open, honest, and enjoyable workplace culture.

Honesty and trust can help to bridge the gaps between intent and impact and reduce misunderstandings between colleagues. So, focusing on workplace culture, and making it the best it can be, can be key to reducing conflicts.

5. Be clear about your intent, and others will act on it.

Communicate your intent clearly with your team – this way, they can align with your intent and act on it. By clearly actioning or communicating your intent, you automatically ensure that the impact will be more aligned.

How can coaching align intent and impact?

With the help of a good coach, you can help align intent and impact within a workplace. Whether that be coaching for a leader who wants to turn intent into the desired impact from their workforce through communication. Or personalised coaching for employees to better deal with conflict in the workplace or coaching to better conflict management in your senior leadership team, expert coaches can help guide individuals and teams to actionable and effective solutions.

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