It’s seems like everywhere we turn, people are offending each other. It’s not specific to a group or a generation. It is an equal-opportunity annoyance, and, often, the offending person did not intend for his or her statement or action to be hurtful.

Have we all recently become overly sensitive? No, but we need to pay special attention when our intent and our actions do not match. As learning and development professionals, especially, we want to ensure that the groups we serve know that what we communicate is effective and unbiased.

Intent is the motivation or purpose behind our action. Although our intent may be good, if it is not communicated well or the behavior that follows doesn’t match it, then the outcome will not go as planned.

We want people to see us based on our intent, but remember the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words”? Most people judge us by our actions. If we all judged people by their intent, the world would be a happier place.

The truth is this that we all have biases and judge the world and other people’s actions through our own selective lens. Here are a few types of bias:

Confirmation bias: When I receive new information, I process it in a way that suits my personal narrative within the context of the situation. For example, if I believe millennials are entitled whiney babies, then I will interpret millennials’ actions in a way that validates my theory. Anyone who does not fit my belief is just an exception.

Hindsight bias: This bias occurs when I think I predicted an outcome that was unpredictable. For example, when my favorite baseball team wins a game, I might say I knew it all along, even though I was secretly unsure.

Unconscious/implicit bias: An implicit bias is a feeling or unconscious belief that someone has about a person or groups of people outside their own social circle. Common workplace examples include hiring someone because they remind you of another person you know who does great work, preferring certain applicants because of their names, or assigning a project that is highly technical to a millennial over a baby boomer.

We need to understand and talk about our biases and the biases of others if we want to have intent that matches action. It’s harder to do than it sounds; if we are not always striving for awareness, we will not get there. Here are some practical steps to start with when communicating with others:

  1. Ask yourself, “Is the behavior I am demonstrating in line with my intent?” If you were the other person, how would your behavior look and feel? These questions become even more important as we deal with more diverse work places. Culture, neurodiversity and generation are all elements of diversity to take into account. Sometimes, our privilege keeps us from seeing the impact of our actions or leads us to become defensive.
  2. Recognize your feelings are your own, and your experience is impacted by the meaning you give an action. Never assume negative intent. Most people have good intent, and assuming good intent will keep you grounded.
  3. Recognize we are shaped by our experiences that started long before this moment. We are not always right. As we all work to become more emotionally intelligent, we must realize that our culture shaped a lot of our thoughts. Sometimes, we need to change those thoughts if we want a better result.
  4. Listen when you’re told that your impact doesn’t line up with your intent, even if it does not match your own self-perception. Considering these perceptions is how we begin to learn, grow and improve. Do not take it personally; apologize, commit to learning more and then become a better human.