Intent vs. Impact

January 20, 2018Hugh Comerford

I had a poignant reminder of my great friend and colleague Dr. Leeno Karumanchery’s organizing thesis: We judge ourselves based on our intent, but everyone else judges us based on our impact. This is at the core both of what Emotional Intelligence is, and what we at MESH do.

This afternoon I was at the cash at a corner store in Toronto, third in line; an older woman was at the cash paying, and a large man stood in front of me wearing a big parka. (It was cold in Toronto today).

I didn’t see what happened, but apparently the woman dropped something. The man in front of me leaned forward and the woman sharply said, “Please don’t do that!”

Parka man responded, “But I was only trying to help.”

“You startled me — I wasn’t expecting it.”

“I was just trying to help.”

“But you were invading my space and I wasn’t expecting it.”

This is what we call the ‘point of perceptual shift’; it’s where we have a choice to either take in the other person’s point of view and begin to ask questions, or, conversely get offended/upset/angry and make assumptions about them that transform immediately into (negative) facts:

He answered, “OH…I didn’t realize this is all your space…”

“Please — you’re being rude.” She replied.

“No YOU’RE RUDE…”

He turned toward me with a look that said, “Look at what I’m dealing with — I’m just trying to help and SHE’S being nasty and maybe a bit ‘crazy’”…. I didn’t give it to him.

At MESH we make a distinction between being ‘right’ and being ‘correct’. In this case, (and in all cases) both were ‘right’ but only the woman was correct.

The man was trying to help.

The woman felt startled and scared when her space was invaded.

Back to Leeno’s point: the woman was judging him based on his IMPACT because it was far more obvious than his intent. And, she was immediately triggered which put her into freeze/fight/flight mode.

The truth is that both were right, but the man excused his invasive and unwelcome behavior because he was ‘trying to help’ He dismissed her reaction as ‘wrong’ because he was judging himself by his intent but blind to his impact on the woman.

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