That Didn’t Work Out the Way I Thought It Would… When outcomes don’t match our intentions

June 3, 2021

By Dave Bushy

It has happened to all of us. 

There are various scenarios, but it can go something like this:  we get a call from a co-worker who expresses concern about something we might have said or done.  We immediately begin explaining the facts about what we were trying to accomplish, carefully going into full detail for the benefit of the other person. 

Then you hear, “Wow, you sure sound very defensive,” or “I feel as if you are overreacting.”  From there things can go from bad to worse. 

You hang up and shake your head, saying to yourself, “I didn’t intend for that to happen, but the other person should have understood what I was trying to say.”  That feeling grows even more over time and a relatively small issue becomes an interpersonal concern for you and the other individual.  Over more time a deeper resistance can build between you.

A number of clients have had this happen.  What they learn in our coaching sessions is that their intentions sometimes do not match the outcome, or, in other words: “That didn’t work out the way I thought it would!”

In any interaction, we can sometimes conclude that the other person just doesn’t “get it,” or we think we can continually explain it until they understand.  But so often what is happening is that the other person just hears words and arguments and doesn’t feel the intention we meant to express.  Things can devolve rapidly as the intention is lost in myriad outcomes that are created separately by each individual.

The work in coaching is helping clients to discover that the issue itself is often not what has manifested itself.  It is our own relationship with the issue and therefore the resulting impact we might have on another person.

“Co-creating” is a term we use in Gestalt Coaching, meaning working with another to create a shared reality.  Sometimes co-creating can start as easily as backing away from the issue or argument and very clearly explaining your intention about the point (not the point itself) you are making.

An example would be: “My intention is to learn what your concerns are about what I said.  Please help me understand.”  That small shift in approach can fundamentally alter a conversation, moving it from an action-oriented “explanation” to a reframing of your own – and the other individual’s –  relationship with it.  Opening yourself up to that intention takes a level of vulnerability which itself can communicate your feelings to your colleague and help you reconnect with each other.  Using the acronym “CLIP” (Curiosity, Listening, Inquiry and Pause) can help guide your connection.

Another way to approach the conversation differently is through empathy.  If you sense that you are not connecting with another person, or if they are concerned or upset, it helps to reach out and say “It was not my intent to upset you – let’s back up and learn where I could have done better with this conversation.”  And remember that if you are a person with a more prominent position in the company, it is so very important to realize that it is easy for others to feel intimidated – even though it might never be your intent to do so.

As each of us begins a conversation, a meeting or even a one-on-one with a colleagues, it can serve us well by taking a moment to ask: “What is my intention with this interaction?”  And continually assess whether that intention matches the impact or outcome that occurs. 

That is the joy of our developmental journey that can serve each of us as leaders.

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – – is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry. 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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