This is a bit counter-intuitive, because we’re taught to judge people not by what they say, but by what they do. All well and good. But if we take time to consider what someone intended to do, outside of the actual consequences, it helps us know how to respond.
One way to look at this is to stop and think about how we judge our own actions, and apply the same level of understanding to other people. For example, if we crash into someone in the park while trying to catch a Frisbee, that person may think we’re an inconsiderate jerk, but we’d be indignant if they didn’t accept our apology. After all, it was just an accident — we didn’t mean to bowl them over. And if we proceed to make amends — and replace the soda we knocked over — they will probably give us a pass.
Apply this to the business world. We need to find a way to judge people by their intentions — and then deal with the consequences of their actions as needed. Grudge-holding, back-stabbing, passive-aggressive behavior — they’re a colossal time-suck. It drains our energy. So much of this daily drama could be quickly diffused if people would just take a minute to consider what the other person intended.
Were you really left off an invite list because of a conspiracy to undermine your authority, or was it a simple administrative error? Is someone challenging your opinion because they don’t like you, or because they want to ensure the best outcome for the team? This is especially critical in multinational businesses, where cultural differences can easily cause people to lose their trust or, even worse, lose face, where no harm was intended.
When we learn to rationalize the intentions of others as well as we do our own — when we become more objective about judging intent vs. behavior, we will be better (and happier) employees, managers, co-workers, parents, children, and spouses. We will deal with consequences more effectively. And if this honest scrutiny leads to the rare conclusion that someone really is behaving badly, we will be able to measure our response appropriately, instead of lashing out in anger. That’s what leaders do.
Follow Bob on Twitter @bpriestheck.