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Do Your Employees Curse You Behind Your Back?

Do Your Employees Curse You Behind Your Back?

June 12, 2014

Do your words hit their mark?

One of the biggest business communication disasters is the gap between intent and impact. This gap can be bigger than you think.  And it can make the difference between shutting your business down for the day, and shutting down for good.

Read on to see how the intent/impact gap can affect your business, and learn how to safely bridge the gap.  

Intent vs. Impact

Have you ever said something, then wondered why people were looking at you funny? Sometimes the road to misunderstanding is paved with good intentions.

The intent of what you say is the desired goal from your message. The impact is how that message reached the recipient. At times, the two are far apart, which results in your having to backtrack with:

  • That’s not at all what I meant.
  • It was only a suggestion.
  • I was just kidding.
  • It was meant as a compliment.
  • I didn’t mean for it to come across like that.

The problem is, we’re not always aware of the impact of our communications. As a business owner, a boss, or a manager, you need to remember that your words matter — and that what you say in a casual, off-the-cuff manner may be taken very seriously.   

A Comment Taken to Heart

A perfect example comes from “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. In the book, the head of a marketing department commented on a new campaign: “I don’t like brown.” As a result of his comment, the marketing team went back to the drawing board and spent hours redoing the campaign. It took them three days, and by the time they had finished, they had missed the deadline. When asked what had caused the delay, they responded that he had told them not to use brown. The marketing director was shocked. His comment was casual and he had meant to suggest only to perhaps make some minor alterations, not to take the time or spend the money to change the entire campaign. That was his intent - but the impact was something entirely different.      

Often, we read too much into simple remarks or vague statements. One way to avoid this is to be alert to nonverbal communication such as body language and facial expressions. If, for example, you get a cold stare, it’s a good sign the intent and the impact did not connect.

When does “good job” not mean “good job”? 

Let me give you another example of a disconnect between intent and impact.

An electronics distributor I know would often walk by his employees, who were busy refurbishing electronic equipment for the sales floor, and say, “Good job, guys.” Once he was out of earshot, they would curse at him. Why? His intent was simply to provide approval — but the hollow, empty praise had the opposite impact. He had no idea that the employees had come in early, stayed late, sifted through many rejects before finding the products they could repair, and that often they were forced to use tools that didn’t work properly. This is all too common in business. General praise does not hit the mark. It’s like water running off a duck’s back. Specificity rocks.

When this business owner was filled in on how his well-intended praise was impacting his employees, he was taken aback. But to his credit, he then went about rectifying the situation by taking three steps.

  1. He acknowledged the ugliness of the situation
  2. He apologized for making the mistake
  3. He took the time to learn what his employees were actually doing

These three steps can be summarized by: I did it; I'm sorry; I won't do it again. Simple - and effective.

From that point forward, his intent was genuine and the impact was positive. He could now say, “Thank you for staying late. I know you chose only the products that you were able to repair to put out on our sales floor. I saw you followed our core value of quality first.”    

Intent vs. Impact in a High-Tech World

To exacerbate the intent/impact quandary further, we are become immersed in a world of email and text communication.

Ever try using sarcasm in an email? It often doesn't go over as intended. Lack of inflection and tone, plus the inability to read body language causes a lot of unintended damage. For example, in email messages, ALL CAPS INDICATES THAT YOU ARE SHOUTING. You may come across as angry and rude, when that wasn’t your true intent at all. And autocorrect on smartphones has caused all sorts of embarrassing situations. One boss who texted his sales rep to show some clients around “like they are terrorists” which was supposed to be “like they are tourists.”  

The Johari Window

The gap between intent and impact can be bridged by using the Johari Window.  This technique, developed over 50 years ago by two psychologists, can help you understand yourself and help others understand you better.  

Quadrant 1, The Known Self, often results in the smoothest line of communication. This is what I know that I know. I know how to type.  If I make a joke, if you know me, you’ll understand what I meant.

Quadrant 2, The Hidden Self, means I’ll need to divulge some information if I want my intent to have the proper impact. That might be as simple as stating “In this e-mail I am looking to find out X and Y.”

Quadrant 3, The Blind Self, is where we often run into communication problems.  These are your blind spots. You can’t see yourself as others see you, so you may not realize if you’re coming across as a jerk. To overcome this, you’ll need other people to provide you with awareness of how you come across when you’re communicating.

Quadrant 4: The Unknown Self, is the most difficult to rectify. It’s hard to change what you don’t see and what’s out of sight from others. Increased self-awareness can make these attributes clearer.      

The more you understand yourself, and the more you divulge to help others understand you, the closer your intent and impact will be.

Fill in Your Own Johari Window

Click here to find a Johari Window that you and your team can fill in.

Print a couple of copies, then follow these 6 steps:

1.      Fill in adjectives in Quadrant 1 about yourself. These are things that are public.

2.      Fill in adjectives in Quadrant 2 about yourself. These are things that are private.

3.      On a separate Johari Window, have your team fill in adjectives in Quadrant 1 about you. These are things everybody knows.

4.      Have your team fill in adjectives in Quadrant 3. These are things they know about you.

5.      Have everyone list general adjectives in Quadrant 4.  These are left for later self-evaluation. Take a look; some may apply to you.

6.      Compare what you and your team know about you. They will learn from what you have written and you will learn from what they have written.  

In the end, the Johari Square can help bridge the gap between intent and impact by taking away a lot of assumptions that we make when communicating..

Taking you from where you are to where you want to be,

Jon