The Nasty Intention/Impact Gap: 7 Tips For Resolve

I once read, “We value ourselves by our intentions. Others value us by our impact.”  Hmmm?  It’s the gap between that often causes challenges, isn’t it?


Recently, Carol and I were debriefing after a couples coaching session – a lively celebratory dialogue.  Carol began to apologize for her interjection into the flow of the coaching conversation I was having with our client.  She was explaining her reasons, as if she had done something wrong.

I said, “It was timely, appropriate, he created great value because of it, so justification isn’t needed.” My intention was that I appreciated what she had done because it added value, and that explanation and an apology weren’t necessary.

But … Carol didn’t know my intention and the conversation stopped immediately.   That’s not typical, and I could feel something was “off.”  My intention and the impact were a distance apart.  I didn’t know what to say so remained quiet, which only widened the gap further.

Thank goodness Carol was bold enough to share what was going on for her.  She described that she felt scolded by my words and tone, as if she were a little child being spanked for a wrong-doing.

If Carol had not been courageous enough to explain the gap, this situation could have led to resentment, anger, and all kinds of other crap. As it was, we were able to transform this into a great learning experience for both of us.

Here’s another:

Awhile ago, I was conversing with a business owner.  I was consulting with him to implement an Employee Share Ownership Plan (ESOP) at his company. I described part of the process and what he’d need to do. He became quite angry.  My intention and the impact were far apart. I immediately apologized, and we were able to transform the gap into a great learning experience for both of us.

What to do:

This intention/impact gap happens for all of us.  How can you and I transform them into great relationship- and trust-building experiences?

Here are 7 Tips:

  1. Listen to your feelings. I know that sounds weird, yet I invite you to be super-attuned to your feelings and to notice any quick negative change.
  2. Be courageous. Understand that if you don’t act on the “gap” now, sooner or later it will end badly. Have the courage to address it right away, when it is easiest.
  3. Apologize. This is a huge trust-builder and a sincere indication that you care. It also tends to calm emotions for both people.
  4. Explain your intention. Even if you’re not sure what went sideways, a brief explanation of your positive intention serves as an invitation for re-engagement.
  5. Ask for clarification about the other person’s perception (what they heard, thought, or felt), using open-ended questions that require dialogue. Often, a memory from the past has triggered a response, which may not have anything to do with the current situation, yet it is real just the same.
  6. Listen to understand until the other person knows they’ve been understood. This may require a few more questions.
  7. Summarize. Wrap it into a brief reflection, including what you learned and how you will use the information next time.

I experience the intention/impact gap multiple times every day. I continue to experiment with these tips because my intention is to strengthen my relationships and become a more effective communicator.  Based on my experiences, it seems the gap is getting narrower.

What about you?  Where in your life do you experience the intention/impact gap?  And more importantly, what are you going to do NOW, to narrow the gaps?

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