One of the biggest problems in workplace performance: lack of awareness of impact

Author:  David Cory


Have you ever noticed that most workplace issues stem from someone’s lack of awareness of their impact on others? The higher you go in the hierarchy, the bigger and more widespread the problems created by a lack of awareness become. So, what can we do about it?

We can be leaders.

We can start by leading ourselves more effectively. We can start by asking ourselves each time we interact with others and each time we make a decision, “how is this impacting people?” I’m not talking about our intentions, but our impact.

Specifying the differences between intentions and impact is an important piece of all our leadership courses and programs. It is critical to understand that we judge ourselves by our intentions and we judge others by the impact of their actions. This is often referred to as attribution error in psychology. We sometimes attribute an incorrect motive to the actions of others in error.

For example, if someone cuts us off in traffic, we may immediately assume they meant to do it, when in fact, they might not even be aware of the infraction.

Ask yourself, “how is this impacting people?”

Here’s a workplace example: if I arrive late at a meeting, I judge myself based on all the attempts I made to not be late and conclude that since I never intended to be late, it’s not such a big deal. However, my potential client might be judging me based on my actions and conclude that it’s unprofessional, makes me seem unreliable, disorganized, and less competent.

So, how do we use this to evaluate our own behaviour? We ask ourselves:

“how are my actions impacting others and does it align with my intentions?”

In terms of leading others, we need to use this concept to manage the performance of the employees whose workplace performance we are accountable for. For example, you may need to make an assertive statement like, “I feel angry when you come late to these particular meetings, because I believe the impact of lateness on the perception of potential clients is that our team is unprofessional, unreliable, disorganized, and less competent and I don’t believe that’s your intention. I’d like you to make an extra effort to arrive on time in future.”


At times we may need to make an assertive statement to someone in positional power over us. These are difficult and feel risky. I think it can be done without being insubordinate or rude, but the point is to convey the impact on you of the action(s) of the other person. It sounds something like, “I feel embarrassed, undermined and demotivated when you give me critical feedback in front of my team and I don’t think that is your intention. What I’d like is for you to call me aside and give me that critical feedback, which I need to improve, in a more private way. Would you consider it?”

Others cannot know your intentions unless you tell them. They only know the impact of your behaviour and it’s emotionally laden. We, therefore, need to be more emotionally intelligent about leading ourselves – and others.

What do you think? Please comment below.

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