Learning
Stephen Light

Intent vs. impact

Learning Stephen Light

Stephen Light discusses how to help your clients align their impact with their intention to be more effective at managing difficult conversations, and shares powerful coaching questions to use with a client who is having a negative impact on people in their work or lives.

Stephen Light is a Leadership Expert and Executive Coach at stephenlight.com

What I have noticed with people I have worked with, is that they have good intent and are trying to achieve an outcome, but often the impact that they have is quite negative. That leads to conflict and misunderstandings.

If we can understand the difference between intent and impact and we can align these two, that will help us be more effective at managing difficult situations, more effective at managing conflict, and more effective at achieveing the outcomes we want to achieve.

Thinking about yourself as an individual, look back at a difficult conversation you have had and start noticing, what was my intent? And then look at the impact you had.

I want to give you some idea of what is going on in peoples' brains when we have a negative impact. From the field of neuroscience, what we tend to find out is that when we have a negative impact on people, and they feel triggered, their brains start flooding them with stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin, and they get into a threat state. And when people are in a threat state they move away from us. That is going to lead to the outcome that you probably do not want.

We need to be conscious of that impact we are having on people. Look for the cues and notice them. And then we need to start seeking ways get curious about people. Find ways to manage that emotional state, so we can bring our impact in line with our intent.

"What are the signals, the signs, that showed you were having that impact?"

It might mean stating your intent up front. For example, "I have noticed that I have had ABC impact on you. That was not my intent. I am sorry."

This is a very simple tool. Give yourself some time after the sorry to allow that to land.

How to coach a client who is having a negative impact

If you are working with someone and this person has a negative impact on other individuals, let's think about some of the questions you should be asking this client:

"What impact did you have?"

"How did you know?"

"What are the signals, the signs, that showed you were having that impact?"

"What do you notice about yourself in those situations?"

"What role are you playing?"

"Where can you take responsibility?"

Once a client starts understanding the role they are playing in creating that impact, you can introduce a tool. Or you can start asking them from their own inner resources:

"What would work differently here?"

"What tools do you know that would deliver that message in a way that has a better impact?"

Help them to come up with the right script, the right approach.

Start asking your clients questions that focus their attention on where they want to go. That will help them to come up with the right script, the right approach.

Role play it with them so that they can walk away feeling confident to go away and practice this or deal with a difficult situation themselves.

In these ways you will help your clients to understand and align their intent with their impact, so that they can achieve the impacts they want to have.

This interview has minor edits for clarity.

Stephen Light is a Leadership Expert and Executive Coach at stephenlight.com