Focus on Impact, Not Intentions

Part 4 of Our Building Trust Series

The other day, some guy cut me off in traffic, forcing me to slam on the brakes.  I was, to say the least, annoyed.  I immediately began making judgments about his character – he’s rude, inconsiderate, selfish, aggressive, and just a plain jerk.

The very next day, I was about to miss my exit on the freeway, and had to squeeze in front of a car in the exit lane.  The driver honked at me and I could see in the rear view mirror, he was waving his arms and using some choice words.  My immediate thought: What’s your problem?  Calm down.  Geez, I was about to miss my exit.

Interestingly, I didn’t judge myself to be rude, inconsiderate, selfish, aggressive, or a jerk – even though my actions were identical to those of the “jerk” who cut me off a day earlier.  Why the different reaction?

Because we tend to judge ourselves on intentions whereas we judge others ON their actions.

When we do something that undermines trust – that hurts someone, embarrasses them, or creates an obstacle to their happiness or success – the natural tendency is to defend ourselves and our actions with an intentions-based argument. 

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

“It wasn't my intention to take credit for your work in that meeting.  The boss gave me the credit and I didn’t want to correct him in front of others.”

But it isn’t our intentions that build or violate trust – it’s our actions

If we want to build and sustain trust in our workplace relationships, we should judge ourselves on our actions, not our intentions.  We should take ownership of the impact our actions have rather than hide behind innocuous or even benevolent motives. 

Our intentions rattle around in our heads – but they aren’t tangible or real to others until they’re expressed through our choices and actions.  It isn’t enough to think to oneself or even to say to others, “I care about my employees.” 

Meaningful benevolence-based trust is built by behaving in ways that prove the statement above to be true.  What are you doing that shows people you care about them?  Here are five actions that provide evidence of care and concern for employees:

  1. Listening: Not every situation requires a fix.  Be intentional about listening, asking questions, understanding, and empathizing.
  2. Mentoring: Millennials are three times as likely to select an employer based upon the opportunity for personal development than for pay rate or salary.  Develop people’s talents and grow their careers.
  3. Supporting: Position people for success rather than failure by providing them with the information and resources they need.
  4. Defending: If something goes wrong, don’t blame the employees.  Be a leader.  Take responsibility.  Protect them publicly and redirect them, as needed, privately. 
  5. Rewarding: The optimal ratio of praise-to-critical feedback is 5:1.  Look for every excuse and reason to reward, recognize, and praise people -- and then do so.

In order to build and sustain relationships of trust, we can’t allow care and concern for people to merely reside within our intentions.  We must breathe life into our intentions by expressing them in our choices and actions – each and every day.  When we do, people won’t think we care about them…they'll know we do.


Next time: Justice and Compassion – Two Peas in the Trust Pod


Daniel L. LeBreton is an organizational psychologist and the founder of Impavid Consulting, LLC – a consultancy dedicated to developing leaders who dignify work, engage people, and inspire excellence. Daniel has worked with hundreds of leadership and executives in organizations ranging from small non-profits to Fortune 100 companies. In addition to running Impavid, Daniel teaches at Vanderbilt University and Belmont University and serves as a pro-bono advisor at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.


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