The Result of Intent

You shouldn’t judge the outcome of an action by the intent when the action began. You should just it by… well, by the outcome. By the results. If you let your toddler play with the nailgun because your intent was that he would learn valuable trade skills, you should still judge whether or not to do it again by whether or not he ended up with a nail through his foot. Good intentions, as I recall, pave a road to a very specific destination.

But there’s a corollary to this that I feel is too often ignored. While we shouldn’t judge results by the intentions behind them, it’s also important to avoid automatically judging the intentions by the results.

Sometimes, this is so easy that we don’t recognize it as a lesson. If a friend you’ve invited over for dinner drops a glass on the floor, you certainly don’t assume their intention was to come over and destroy your stuff. It was an accident, and you probably never think otherwise.

When the subject is someone more removed from you, you lose that perspective. A company makes a move that costs them millions of dollars, and social media is suddenly full of people asking why the company would intentionally throw away millions of dollars, as if that was the goal – instead of just a blunder on the part of people trying their best. We lose perspective.

Between your close personal friends and distant companies are loads of people you’ll interact with in the middle ground. Potential employers. Providers of professional services. Colleagues. And sometimes, the results of the choices they make will be poor. In those moments, we’ll be tempted to think that they intended to reach those outcomes, especially if those outcomes directly affect us.

“The hiring manager said he’d email me back by Friday, but it’s Tuesday! He’s clearly pulling a power play and doesn’t care about his candidates; what a jerk.” Nah. Maybe he got sick? Maybe his kid did? And yeah, maybe he should have made sure someone else emailed you – but him being less than 100% awesome at his job isn’t automatically a sign that he intended to do this.

Don’t take things personally. Evaluate the results objectively, assume good intent until you have reason to believe otherwise, and don’t make the mistake of assuming one is the other.

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