Harassment Mistake #4: Confusing Intent and Impact

The fourth of the frequent mistakes managers make is confusing between “intent” and “impact”.

Impact refers to the ways in which a person (or persons) is negatively affected by the actions of another individual or group (The Source). Intent describes The Source’s motive and intentions when initiating the action’s that offended or hurt the impacted person.

It is quite common for someone in the workplace to cause offence or humiliation to another person without ever intending any harm. We make a comment that somehow is taken the wrong way or we crack a joke that is perceived by someone as offensive. Or perhaps we compliment someone on something (“hey, you’ve lost tons of weight!”) and they experience our actions as degrading.

When the victim goes to management with an informal or formal harassment complaint, the manager will often make the mistake of confusing intent and impact: he may minimize the weight he places on the impact of the events on the victim simply because the source harboured no mal-intent. His thinking may go along the following lines: It’s just a misunderstanding. George meant no harm and Monique misunderstood his intent. Therefore all I need to do is explain this to her and make her feel better. Talking to George about the instance might make him feel really bad. That would be counter-productive and besides, it may make me look like I’m over-reacting to a harmless situation.

When a person comes forth to complain that they suffered negative impact (and assuming their complaint is reasonable), it is the manager’s responsibility to take corrective action. The very fact that something caused a harassment-type impact is the single most important determinant requiring an organizational response.

The nature and severity of the corrective action will be determined by the intent.

Making the common mistake of confusing between these two distinct concepts will lead the managers to refrain from taking appropriate action to address problem situations. The result can be an escalation in the level of the complaint or a detrimental effect on the victim and the work environment.

For further discussion of this issue, I invite you review the two-part Harassment: Intent vs. Impact entry at : Harassment: Intent vs. Impact (1) and Harassment: Intent vs. Impact (2)

Here’s the full list of mistakes:

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