Intent vs Impact

Here is a common scenario that I have watched and experienced many times: the words that were spoken/written by someone were received in way that was different from the intended impact. The message that was received or the feeling that was created was not at all what the speaker/writer was trying to send or create.

In other words, there is often a big divide between the intent of the speaker and the impact on the audience. I have lived this scenario many times, on both sides of the equation. And I have watched it happen for others more times than I can count.

What causes this disconnect? Lots of things can contribute: emotion, moving/responding too quickly, not thinking about the other person’s perspective, not caring about the other person’s perspective, misunderstanding of the signals we send… I could go on and on. There are lots of reasons why the disconnect between intent and impact can occur.

Earlier today, I sat through a workshop with my colleague Hannah, and she spoke eloquently about this topic, something she thinks about a lot and has studied extensively. And as I was listening to the discussion with the workshop participants, I kept coming back to the idea of how easily this disconnect can happen. Even under the best of circumstances, and even when the intentions of the speaker and the recipient are good, this disconnect can still happen. Often. In every single conversation that we participate in, there is a risk of a disconnect between intent and impact.

Now, what do we do to close that potential gap? That is a long conversation (which was, after all, one of the main topics of today’s workshop). But in its simplest form, reducing the frequency of this disconnect comes down to this:

  • When the speaker works hard to think about her/his signals and how those signals might be perceived by others;
  • And when the recipient assumes best intentions from the speaker and does not automatically assign negative intent to those signals;
  • When both of those things happen, the frequency of this disconnect will go down. We may never completely eliminate the risk of the disconnect. But we can reduce the likelihood, significantly. 

So here is what to do… when it is your turn to speak, spend some time thinking about your audience and their perspective, and your signals and their potential impact; and when it is your turn to listen, spend some time thinking about the speaker and their perspective, the speaker’s likely intent, and not just how the signals make you feel. No matter what side of the communication equation you are on, do your best to meet the other person in the middle. When you do that, you will connect more successfully, and will avoid the common disconnect between intent and impact. 

Have a great day!

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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One response to “Intent vs Impact”

  1. Florence DuPerry says:

    One of the best examples of Intent / Impact disconnect is the old routine by Abbot and Costello – “Who’s on First?” In my prior life as a trainer, I did a segment on Intent / Impact as part of a 2 day training session. We would watch the whole bit and then dissect. It is a great way to use levity to make a point about the disconnect in Communication.

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.