Intent v Consequences

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“It’s easy to own the intent behind our word choices.  It’s more challenging to own the unintended consequences of them.”

–     Chad Leistikow, Des Moines Register columnist & reporter, in an exceptional story on Gary Dolphin, the University of Iowa’s men’s basketball and football play-by-play announcer 

Using “exceptional” in the line above was a difficult choice.  Why?  Chad’s so consistently good it’s tough to call out a single piece of his work as exceptional when he’s consistently remarkable.

Every day, we each probably say something that can be interpreted as offensive by someone.  Most days, we’re probably completely unaware that we’ve done so because we don’t speak to hundreds of thousands of listeners over an open microphone with every word subject to feedback on social media and across the table at the bar.  We’re not uncomfortable with things of which we’re unaware.  That said, these are interesting, polarized times, and it’s too easy for each of us, for all of us to continue to be comfortable with things that, perhaps, should have made us uncomfortable all along.

Chad’s insightful and empathetic writing captures ginormous opportunities for each of us, and for all of us.  First is the opportunity to hear our words through a filter of the listener, whoever they might be.  Second, and most important, is the opportunity to get better every day which is clearly evident in the manner and details of Dolphin’s approach to the past 8 1/2 months.

What’s the business application?  A couple of really simple examples follow:  (Full disclosure — the whole idea of acute political-correctness is difficult for me, and I struggle with whether the whole danged world is taking itself too seriously — but that perspective has been impacted by Dolphin’s journey.)

  1. Asking our team, “You guys doing ok?”  What’s the harm in that, right?  Unless we hear it through the ears of the listener and until we ask “is it ok if I refer to the group as “you guys?” we’re not sure if there’s harm or not.
  2. Referring to “procurement people….” in the business of selling something, let’s just say that the ellipse tends to lead to a less-than-flattering description.  I’ve written and spoken in those terms, never considering (caring?) whether a conscientious procurement professional might be hurt by the characterization.  “Dolph’s” journey is cause for me to pause.

It’s a fine line because it’s not easy to be completely real and completely cautious at the same time. Candidly, it may not even practical and I’m not sure “caution” is the primary ingredient in difference makers.  That’s where the tie between intent and unintended consequences comes full-circle.  If our intent is for good, it only takes a second to consider the words we use.  It’s a second worth investing.

We’ll likely never be perfect at it.  Dolphin likely won’t ever be perfect at it.  Chad’s odds are better than mine, but I’ll still take the “under” on him getting it “perfect.”

The challenge is worth taking on.  For each of us.  For all of us.

 

 


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