“This work is unacceptable! Surely you are capable of more hard work!”
I remembered saying this to my niece… perhaps sometimes a watered down version of it to a student too.
I was sitting in the recently held workshop in the faculty lounge when I thought about this. The team from the Center of Creative Leadership, Singapore had come to campus to conduct a 2-day workshop on effective leadership styles for faculty. There was one concept that personally impacted me tremendously, that was this concept of ‘Intention – Impact Gap’.
Let’s go back to what I remember saying to my niece “This work is unacceptable! Surely you are capable of more hard work!”. She would judge the communication on the impact it made on her. The take-away message for her would be “It’s never enough for my aunt ”, “Of course I have put in hard work, what does she know”, “Doesn’t she know I am a good student, why is she pushing me”?
On the other hand, I would judge the same communication on the intention I have behind what I say. The message I would feel I am giving out is “I care for you, I know you are capable of more”, “I don’t want you to accept mediocrity for yourself”, “You have to learn to push yourself”.
The gap lies here, right here between the intention and the impact. This gap you will find at the core of so many communication breakdowns, misunderstanding between otherwise objective people. How many times have you said something and have found the recipient reacting differently to what you expected? How many times have you thought about what your boss or a colleague has said and wondered if they were in their right mind. On a larger scale, many leaders create paths to changes in their organisations but very often they see slow results or serious resistance to changes.
So how does one work around it? The key to reducing the gap works two ways. If you communicate your intention, there is a high chance the listener will be more receptive to what you are saying. The other equally important way is to ask for feedback to understand the impact. A simple “Tell me what you feel about this” can open doors to far richer and effective conversations. A leader can communicate the intention or the logic behind a new policy and equally importantly genuinely seek feedback to understand the impact on the people and organisation.
On a personal level, how would it help me change the way I communicate? Going back to what I said to my niece, if I could go back in time I would probably have said something different, perhaps something like;“You know I care for you and that I feel you are capable of more. I really want to help you and I feel perhaps this one time you have not pushed yourself. I think this work is unacceptable. Surely you are capable of more hard work. Do you feel the same way?”