Intention vs Behaviour

Why do I offend people with my behaviour when my intention is good?

I have never met a CEO whose intention was to drive down share prices, create a bad culture, or lose market shares. However, I have met many who have done this unintentionally!

I have never met a manager who wanted to disengage their staff, destroy team cohesion, and 'drop the ball' on projects. However, I have met many who have done this by consequence.

I have never met an employee whose intention was to create trouble in their team, undermine their manager, and bitch about their co-workers. However I have met many who have fallen into this trap.

I recently spoke at a conference for a large organisation that was implementing a new strategy whilst moving into a very bold and exciting new area of business. In fact, I was very excited to talk to the employees of this organisation because what the company was trying to achieve was ground breaking. Before I presented, the GM of that area got up and spoke to the team about this new venture.

It was a disaster! He came off bullish, gruff, and his sentiment was, "We are going in this direction and you better get on-board or else". After he finished I asked him (very carefully) what his intention was for that presentation. He replied, "I wanted to show them how important this move is for the company and how I am 100% on-board, as they should be. They are such a great bunch of people, and I wanted to motivate them and show them how passionate I am about this". I was amazed that his intention was so pure, yet his behaviour conveyed anything but.

From this, I realised that intention is very different to behaviour. This is a problem because we judge our own behaviour on our intent, yet we judge others on their behaviour. We find that if we say something with good intentions to someone and they get offended, our internal response is, "Why did that person become offended? I was just trying to help!"

Perhaps someone in our team is curt with us and we think, "Why are they being so horrible to me?" when really they just have a lot on their minds and their intention is only to be efficient in their response. Why does this mismatch happen? Because we know our intent, yet all others see is our behaviour.

I brought this up during a workshop I was running with a leadership team. It had a profound impact on the mood of the room and you could see them take a collective sigh of relief. Following this people were far more open to talk about some of the behaviours they were displaying that may have a detrimental impact on the team. In addition, the atmosphere lightened and they didn't take offense when other people mentioned some of their personal behaviours that were challenging for the team. It was one of the most non-judgemental interactions I have ever seen.

There are two things to learn from this:

1. We need to be more self aware about our behaviour because it may not be aligned to our intent. How do we do this?

a. Have greater consciousness about your behaviour and its possible impact – think about how you 'show up'. b. Ask for feedback from people about your behaviour.

c. When they give you feedback on your behaviour, put your ego to the side and don't take offense. Remember that behaviour is different to intent.

d. Set up a culture around yourself where others find it ok to give you feedback on your behaviour. Don't create an internal 'black book' whenever someone feeds back anything that you don't like.

2. That we shouldn't be so quick to judge peoples' behaviour because their intent may be pure.

a. Be honest and ask people what their intent was.

b. Tell them what the impact of their behaviour was on you and ask yourself if matched their intent.

c. Cut the people around you some slack and realise their intent may be good.