Intention and impact

7th November 2023

One of the key problems with communication is that other people see things differently to how we see them.

So we might send an email which we believe to be glorious in all its detail. But our readers might think ‘this is boring and long. Why are you telling me all this?’

This is what we call ‘intention’ and ‘impact’.

When we communicate, we have a certain intention.

And this might be very different to the impact we have on others.

For example, when a salesperson says “we were founded in 1922”

  • Their intention is to say “You’re safe with us. We’ve been around for ages. There’s history there. Gravitas. Stability.”
  • But the impact on the customer is entirely different. They often think “Why are you telling me how old you are? I need help now. I’m more interested in you improving my future, than I am in hearing you bang on about your past”

We often see this ‘intention impact problem’ at work, don’t we?

Example: the boss who calls an update meeting – the intention being to keep everyone updated and aware of what’s happening. But the impact on others often is “I don’t care what everybody else is doing. I’m busy. And I don’t have time for this.”

So, intention and impact are different. What do we do about it?

  • Seek feedback. The only way to know what impact we’ve had on others is to ask them what impact we had on them! Seek their feedback
  • Don’t get cross! When someone says something to us that has a negative impact on us, remember it probably wasn’t their intention to annoy us. But if we react too strongly – “why on earth did you say that? How dare you!” – that can annoy them. They feel it’s an overreaction. So instead of leaping to criticise, calmly ask yourself “What was their intention?” and/or, ask them why they said it
  • Ask upfront. If someone asks you to prepare something for them, your intention will be to do a great job. And the easiest way to ensure you have the impact you want? Ask them upfront what the main topics are that they want to include. Ask what level of detail they want. Do they want it verbally, in a document, in PowerPoint, something else? The more you ask what they want, the more likely you are to deliver it

With communication, people often go to blame too early:

  • I messed-up that communication
  • They were too boring
  • I can’t believe he said that
  • I can’t believe she did that

But communication isn’t about blame. It’s about whether it works or not. And the best way to ensure it works is that our intention equals the impact on them. And the more successfully we nail this, the more successful we’ll all be.

Action Points

  • Proactively – next time you’re involved in a communication, think ahead how you can best align the intention and impact. Do everything you can to ensure both you and they get it right first time
  • Reactively – for a recent communication that didn’t go well, don’t leap to judge. Instead, remember intention/impact. And seek to find a solution that benefits you both

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