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Intent vs. Impact

Intent vs. Impact

I was sitting in a sexual harassment refresher about 5 years ago. My job at the time made it mandatory that everyone within the company took the training once a year.
It was the very first time I heard the phrase “it is not your intent, it’s your impact”.

Now, believe me, the first time I heard that I was like “that is selfish!”
If I’m not trying to hurt you and you get hurt, that’s your problem. Not mine!
But as he explained it further, I began to understand the responsibility placed on us as people and as people who have others we love.

Now the initial discussion was about sexual harassment right?
An example of how intent vs. impact works was imagine showing up to work tomorrow and you see Sally on your way in.
You tell Sally “I love your dress, it really brings out your figure”
In your mind, you have done something nice. Most of us would think like that. Start Sally’s day with a compliment right? Make her feel good a bit?
What happens when you find out that Sally took offense to that. Imagine for a second that Sally was having a crappy morning and her mother had criticized her weight earlier that day.
Your comment reawakening the crappy feeling she already had – impact.
Intent vs. Impact.

Since that day, I have always tried to apply the same logic to my friendships and romantic relationships.
I understand that it is human to offend but more importantly, how I approach something is the only thing I can account for.
How someone receives it, is their choice as well.
They are entitled to that.
And even when it annoys you and you feel like they are taking a piss, you have to still look at things from their end.

It is also important to be aware that while someone may offend you and that was their impact, it may not have been their intention.
The best way to look at this is how you want to be loved.

Anyone that knows me well enough knows that I hate talking about things I cannot change.
Things that aggravate me are words with no action and feeling powerless in a situation.
I used to date someone in a long distance situation that would say, “you never come to see me or even talk about it”
In their mind, my lack of dialogue around it has impacted them into thinking, I don’t care.
But that is not my intention. For one, like I explained earlier, I hate empty talk. I am a doer, if I want something, I wait till I can execute till I bring it up.
Until we had a conversation about it, she always thought I just didn’t care.
5years ago, I would have said she was being selfish for not understanding my intent but you have to communicate it.

It is also your responsibility when you love someone to afford them the benefit of the doubt.
One of my partners used to be horrible with the public display of affection and love.
I host a radio show and I expect that a woman that loves me, would listen and support weekly.
But she was one of those people in the background.
Listening but never using the hashtag or commenting. It bothered me for a while. But I had to understand that her intent was not to seem uninterested or absent.
Did it annoy me? Hell yes, but I had to see the big picture.

This also brings me to the concept of how you love people.
You have to understand your past successes in relationships count for nothing if the current one you are in is failing.
Nobody wants to be in a failed relationship or friendship but it takes work to make all of that tick.
I am pretty confident that nobody likes the idea of repeatedly saying, “that’s not what I meant”
That is part of where the work comes in. You have to be able to align your intentions and your impact.
That is one of the ways relationships/friendships are successful.

I have a friend that gets mad at me all the time for my response times to text messages. They assume that I must not care or that I am just absent.
Totally untrue but I understand where there are coming from.
I get busy, absent-minded, distracted or forgetful but at no point does any of that translate to not caring.
But it happens and people feel things.

If you love them, tell them.
Fight for them.
Support them.
Be available and
Try to be sensitive to their needs. Their concerns, frustrations.
Also, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Do not start every thought with assuming that they are doing everything to hurt you.
If there is anything you need to remember today from this, make sure your intent and impact are as closely aligned as possible.

You won’t always get it right but you can try.
Now, if you don’t get me a gift for my birthday, the impact is that I will be very upset and NO, I don’t care about your bloody intent. 😂
Okay, just kidding.
Go out there this week and be great. Until next week, it has been WordsOfWednesday from the desk of The Wordsmith.

Bless.

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Black.Gay.Waiting Part 3 out on Saturday!
Please watch this space!

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6 thoughts on “Intent vs. Impact

  1. You know, probably more than anyone, that this hit close to home. It’s a significant message that everyone should take some time to not just read, but fully understand it. I think understanding the difference between intent and impact and understanding the significance of both is vital to friendships and relationships. Both relate to accountability. I know for me, I tend to focus on whichever is the most negative. Which is a personal problem. Meaning, I don’t offend easily. But if someone said or did something with the intent to hurt me, but what they did or said didn’t phase me, I have a hard time letting it go bc I know that they wanted me to be hurt, which doesn’t sit well. However, I’ve always been one to give friends multiple chances and give them the benefit of the doubt, but it’s interesting when a friend can’t provide the same luxury. All in all, thank you for this piece, it was very timely and interesting. It allowed for self reflection and allowed me to look at certain relationships and friendships differently. Some ppl you have to let go of and others are worth hanging on to, depending on certain things that this piece shed some light on. Thanks again!

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  2. This totally reminds me of one of your old posts “Good Kid, Bad Intentions”.
    I believe a good habit is to make sure (or at least try) that every interaction we have is edifying/uplifting. Don’t leave someone feeling unhappy or worse than they did before they interacted with you. I personally have a problem with reading into things. As much as I can give benefit of doubt, if actions are doing much more than words – a message is received.
    It’s important to realize our actions might affect the people around us. Sometime’s it’s even the lack of action. That’s why even though difficult, I strongly believe in communication – especially if you’ve made the wrong impact. Talk things through and attend to the other person’s feelings.

    “Part of recognizing your impact is emotional maturity and HUMILITY”

    Another thing that came to mind when reading this was “Do I know how my friends/partner(s) want to be loved?”. Now it’s not always going to happen that we know how our loved ones want to be loved. Of course by observation and time with them you should be able to pick up on elements of their love language. But sometimes you need to talk about it. ‘You did this, and it made me feel this way’ ‘I feel loved when you do this’ etc.

    In all of this, no one ever wants to feel like they’re overstating their importance in your life.
    Mitigate negative impacts by communicating. If and when you make the wrong impact, apologize.
    I speak to myself as well as I type all of this.

    Thanks for this piece Sanmi – triggered a lot of thought!

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  3. Another piece to make us stop and think. Impact vs Intent is so key, i question all the time how much some people close to me care because they do not hear me when i try to tell them how i need to be loved. I can admit i always assume the worst, because i feel like if someone knows i dont like something and they continuously do it. It must mean they dont care. I have learnt to not adopt a one size fits all approach and learn everyones intent individually. Will practice giving the benefit of doubt more. Thanks again for a great post

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  4. I know your impact is greater than your intent because it’s what people actually feel and experience. But if you’re with someone and your habits weigh them down and make them feel uneasy, you can’t just bury it by saying that that’s not your intention. I think sometimes you have to compromise with people and come out of your comfort zone for people you are trying to love. That way, your intent not to hurt them can also be felt in the impact.
    Lovely piece Wordsmith. Now give us BGW Part 3

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