The Congress of Intention and Action

The famous words go, “Hell is paved with good intentions.” When I first heard them they seemed too swift, like a harsh judgment passed on those who made wrong choices.  But after some reflection, I realized the potency of that remark.

How many times have we heard people say, “That wasn’t what I intended”, or explain, “What they meant to do..” or tell you how “They really wanted to…”. I have heard this phrase multiple times in varied scenarios, at work and with friends. I am also guilty to have used these lines myself .  The cost of having intentions that are not backed by actions is trust deficit. 

Trust, I believe is founded on actions. Which is why when people receive mixed messages, or see a contrast between what you tell and do, they begin to get skeptical. Teams in organizations are most notorious for trust deficit. You have leaders who ‘preach’ or give assurances to team, but fail to ‘walk the talk’. Trust occurs when a leader stands up for the team when required, acts exactly as communicated, has straight forward discussions rather than let the grapevine pass the message, is honest in giving feedback and if development and growth is the intention, does not let ‘perception’ cloud the assessment of an individual. Trust is built when the leader remains consistent. This also sways the other way, and mistrust is reinforced when a leader is consistent with the wrong behaviors as well.

But why should leaders care about trust? Because it is the baseline for true engagement. Regardless of the generation an individual belongs to,  degree of trust between a manager and an individual determines the nature of interaction and affiliation, thereby influencing productivity and efficiency.

We often tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. Which is why it is common to have someone justify their intentions. There are various debates on the impact of intentions. A moralistic angle considers intentions highly, even law for that matter, which separates categories of crime based on motive, like murder vs. manslaughter.

But in the school of trust, intention has little value. Trust calibrates what you do. Which is why trust is also fragile. This perspective of mine was deeply debated by a colleague who believed trust, especially between partners in a marriage, is also based on intentions. Otherwise, concepts of forgiveness or compromise would never exist in a relationship.

My counter to that was, once trust is established, there is a higher order of that sentiment which comes into play. Faith. Faith takes risks, and does not always need evidence. Faith trusts. Faith lets you believe the good in someone, even after they have acted erroneously. But faith, especially in relationships, comes after there is a semblance of trust.

Which takes me back to organizations which desire loyalty and commitment. All of that requires some faith. And faith won’t come if employees remain cautious.

However over the last few years behavioral economists have written a lot about the irrationality of our decisions. And as a witness to my own trust deficient actions, there is one major element at play; procrastination. So how can one manage these factors and also retain trust?

Trust is fragile, but it also has a good memory. Which is why the consistency of one’s behavior is crucial. Procrastination evidenced over the course of many instances will lead to cynicism.  Similarly, wrong decisions taken multiple times will raise questions about intent and competence.

One solution to bridge the gap between intention and action is as cliched as ever – communicate. Express your motives and desires. As much as people understand the context you acted from, the more open they will be to accept your errors in action, and thus makes way for empathy. However, this doesn’t give an individual refuge from displaying consistency and ‘ walking the talk’ .

So if you are invested in any relationship,  remind yourself that as many good intentions that you may hold about others, if your behavior doesn’t reflect that, nobody will believe you.


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