Focus on Impact not Intent

“You make ugly, look beautiful.”  If someone said this about you, how would you feel?

In my experience, about 50% of people perceive this as a positive statement and the other 50% as a negative statement.  Which way did I intend for it to impact you?  Great question!  However, does it really matter what I intended?  Isn’t the impact it had on you more important than what I meant?

Impact is about your reality.  Intent is about mine.

Have you noticed that when the stakes are higher, you tend to focus on the expected impact more than you normally would?  For example, a friend of mine works in a law firm, where the Partners (the owners of the company) range from friendly to fear-provoking.

When writing an email to a Partner who he knows is more likely to misinterpret something – and especially if the Partner is likely respond in a way that is intimidating and humiliating – my friend will spend up to 4 hours writing a 15 minute email.  Have you done this too?

Now, clearly taking 16 times longer to write an email than necessary isn’t very efficient.  And certainly managing through fear isn’t a form of leadership that many of us would condone.  However, what this story shows us is that we are capable of demonstrating more empathy in our communication than we typically do.  By this, I mean we are able to appreciate the other person’s perspective and anticipate their reaction to our message, based on how we predict they will interpret what we say – or write, in this case.

My wife, who is a Clinical Counsellor, would call this “predictive empathy”.  By this she means, anticipating how the other person will feel when they read or hear your message.  Often, we overlook this aspect of communication, which leads to unexpected (or “unanticipated”) reactions from those that we are communicating with.

Whenever we communicate, we are hoping to influence someone’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.  Or at least, we should be in order to be more effective communicators.  If that truly is the case, then the impact we have on someone else’s thinking, feeling, and acting should be our priority.

I believe that any of us are capable of developing the habits and associated skills required to more often and more quickly communicate with impact.  I work at this every single day!  And still have a long way to go…

My challenge to you is to spend the next 24 hours catching yourself whenever you notice you are talking or writing without being clear on who you are trying to influence and how you specifically would like to change their attitudes, emotions, or behaviours.  Once you do this, you will be blown away by just how often you speak without consciously knowing your purpose.

Have I practiced what I’ve preached?  Have I inspired you to take action?


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