Benign intentions don’t cancel bad impact.
A few years ago, while cooking and lost in thought, I opened an upper cabinet door right into my husband’s head. He yelped as the corner of the door dug sharply into his skull.
The first words out of my mouth were, “Sorry about that, I didn’t do it intentionally!”
Rubbing his skull, he replied, “That sure makes my head hurt less.”
We inadvertently create three problems when we wrap assurances of our benign intentions into conflict conversations:
- We imply that because our intention was benign, the other person should miraculously suffer less. But they don’t. The impact we had on them still stands until we address that. In organizational conflict situations, addressing the impact usually means figuring out how to prevent similar impact in the future. How are you encouraging your people to focus more on impact than intention?
- We distract ourselves from the more valuable conversation. When we make the conversation about our intentions instead of the impact we too often end up in a conversation about fault and blame. When we make the conversation about impact we end up in a conversation that can turn conflict into opportunity for change. How are you leveraging conversations about unintended impact to strengthen organizational systems and processes?
- We make the conversation about us and our goodness instead of about the problem. Ego-soothing yes, but when we inadvertently hurt or have other negative impact on someone, our best energy is spent on them, not us. They want us to know we understand the impact and when we’re only talking about ourselves, that’s difficult to show. Are you modeling compassion instead of self-protectionism for your team?