Production Pancakes – Feedback – Impact vs Intent

Good intentions can have negative impact. Start improving your meetings/1 on 1s by understanding how we perceive feedback. Impact vs Intent is the difference between how we perceive feedback or a situation vs how the other party perceives it. While there is a lot in play during feedback sessions, today, I’ll talk about this specific blind spot.

Let’s say we’re giving feedback, and another party is receiving our feedback. We are completely aware of our own ideas as we have them, this makes us pre-disposed to focus on our intention. However, the other party of a feedback session is focusing on our output, unaware of our thoughts and intentions, thus they will be measuring the impact our feedback has. The same is true of any situation involving 2 or more people. This is Impact vs Intent.

In scrum, we strive for increased transparency. From personal experience, this has led to very honest and open conversations; which some people are happier than others to engage in. So, it might be necessary to have your team internalise the intentions of your interactions, but be honest with the impacts too. For example, if an intention of the Daily Scrum is to identify impediments, and the team is approaching this by calling out the offending party in front of everyone, then the team could bring up that this approach is negatively impacting them. Instead, it might be decided that rather than laying blame at each other’s feet, the team simply states what has been impeding (impacting) them and have the Scrum Master chase the issues.

Impact vs Intent: John Travolta says "that's not what I meant"

A blind spot

As feedback givers or receivers, we must be aware of this “blind spot” and make our intentions quite clear. As I stated in a previous blog post, it’s better to overcommunicate, and when it comes to our intentions, it’s best to make them clear.

Here’s a concise example from “Thanks for the Feedback”:

when Annabel gets the feedback that she’s “difficult”, she insists that she’s not difficult. Saying, in essence “I have positive intentions, and therefore positive impacts”. But she doesn’t realise what impacts she’s having.

So here’s the fix

We should treat intentions and impacts differently. As a feedback receiver, a simple way of approaching this blind spot is to clearly state what your intentions were and, in contract, ask the other party what the impacts were.

As feedback givers, we should also be careful not to ascribe intentions to the receiver, i.e. “you were being bossy and rude”, vs “I felt bossed about by you, and I felt your choice of words was rude”.

If we can keep this blind spot in mind, when conducting ourselves and working with others, then I believe we can be better feedback partners to our colleagues. Oh and reading the book below might help.


Example and inspiration taken from: Stone, D. and Heen, D. (2015) Thanks for the feedbackPenguin.

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