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collaboration

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Impact vs. Intent: Which is more important?

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In the public sphere, much is being said about impact vs. intent. “If the impact of what you said or did makes me uncomfortable or offended or stressed, then you are at fault and your intent is irrelevant.” Impact is being touted as the only thing that matters.

But there is little logic in many of these affirmations; only scolding. Ironically, the same journalists who condemned Joe Biden for the discomfort he caused with his overly affectionate behavior also took umbrage with a mother who expressed her discomfort with young women wearing revealing leggings in church. The scolds blamed Joe Biden for his impact (his intent was immaterial), and then they reversed themselves and blamed the mother for not understanding the intent (and the impact she felt was trivialized). There’s no internal logic; the only consistency is the scolding. It reminds me of the game called Whack-a-Mole, where the objective is simply to squash another, over and over again.

I believe that in most cases, intent and impact matter in equal measure. A few weeks ago, I texted and then called one of my daughters with a suggestion that I hoped would relieve some stress from her daily overload (medical school, planning a wedding, and an upcoming trip). The impact was the opposite of my intent. She gently told me that I was adding to her stress because I was one more person she needed to respond to. We quickly cleared the air, laughed about the difference between my intent and how she received it, and we parted with a better understanding of each other. When I learned the negative impact of my actions—in a dialogue that was mutually respectful—I was open to hearing what I could do that would actually be helpful (which was my intent).

The crux of the matter isn’t who is right and who is wrong; it is whether or not the parties involved see and respond to the dignity of the other. Every experience is an opportunity to grow and learn; it is our choice whether or not to take it.

Communication is about the give and take between two or more beings who have different perspectives and frames of reference. We bump up against differences and misinterpretations many times a day. To function effectively, we need to engage with each other, with curiosity and humility, to try to find new solutions that take differing views and reactions into account. It means that we clarify, seek understanding, and hopefully find some common ground.

Contact us to learn more about the communication skills we teach for leadership and effective collaboration.

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Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.

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The 50-40-10 Guideline

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I created the 50-40-10 Guideline as a rule of thumb, based on experience and practice. Approximately 50% of communication takes place through body language, 40% through tone of voice, and 10% is expressed in the words themselves. While this rule of thumb is not rooted in scientific research, it is nevertheless a helpful guide for managing interactions effectively.
 
We often communicate through the written word—text and e-mails—in large part because it feels more efficient, and in the right contexts, it is. But this mode is also most prone to misunderstandings because we lack tonal and visual inputs. Emojis can only take us so far.
 
When we feel that something has gone awry, this is the moment to seek clarification through a phone call, a video call, or in person. If we don’t, we speculate about the motivation or reasoning behind someone’s message or silence. We often plan responses based on that speculation, and we may find ourselves in a mythical world inside our heads.
 
Face-to-face (F2F) is the fullest form of communication. We can witness a sigh, and see facial expressions that accompany a pause, for example. We can see whether the other person is grimacing in that pause, or giving thoughtful consideration to a response. We can clarify on the spot or probe further.

F2F is often impractical due to geographic distance, but sometimes we ascribe impracticality when we simply find it inconvenient; we don’t want to bother with a video-call or meeting. This is short-sighted because it leads us to weaken bonds rather than modify them for more effective collaboration. It leads us to operate with our input and interpretation only, rather than allowing new possibilities to emerge from the input of both parties. I sometimes wait a month or more to have a F2F conversation with a business colleague or friend when I need to clear the air.
 
Every mode of communication has its strengths and weaknesses. The key is to use all of them intentionally, knowing which form is most appropriate for a given circumstance. In the long run, this produces the best outcomes. Contact us to learn more.

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Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.

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