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Impact vs Intent

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

June 2, 2019 Partnership for Talent

Impact versus intent is a concept that I introduce at some point or another in almost every engagement that I undertake. It is an easily understood concept that has application in a variety of situations. Here are a few examples:

  • Someone takes something that you said or did in a way that you didn’t mean it. Most likely in your conversation you were focused on the message you were trying to deliver (intent) rather than what was being received by the other person (impact). This is now an opportunity to validate the persons feelings, and share with them that the impact on them was not at all what you intended. Being open and vulnerable in that discussion may give you and opportunity to reframe the situation so that your impact the second time around matches your intent.

  • Someone does or says something to you that makes you feel disrespected, condescended to, dismissed, or otherwise pretty bad. Understanding impact versus intent gives you the tools and opportunity to share with them that you are certain that their intent was not to be disrespectful, condescending, dismissive, mean, etc.. but that was the impact that their words or actions had on you. Oftentimes, this immediately snaps the interaction in a different, more positive direction.

  • During discussions with those you lead about performance, it is important to think clearly about the message that you want them to receive and its impact on them. As you move up to higher and higher levels of leadership, it is oftentimes assumed that your role is to have the best interests of the organization at heart. This drives people to assume that the interactions they have with you (impact) are a direct reflection of your intent. Thus managing your impact as you move up in leadership becomes a key factor in your success.

  • In today’s business environment, interpersonal interactions are more closely scrutinized than ever before. As these interactions are measured in some of our compliance arenas (harassment determinations, hostile work environments) the measuring stick is aligned with the impact of the individual not their intent. “I didn’t mean it that way” will never be a successful defense.


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