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

"I have enough technical knowledge that I can make up for my lack of people smarts." - Said no one ever

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.

Ask yourself, “how is this impacting people?”

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.

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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  1. Hi David,
    I could not agree more. Thank you for the information.
    Please keep in touch and forward updates. The toxicity in a workplace definitely creates and fosters ill health.
    I know from personal experience and have seen what it has done to many colleagues as well. The psychological processes are even more evident is you really pay attention.

  2. Hi MaryLynn, thanks for your comment! Apparently, Peter Drucker said, “no one comes to work to do a bad job.” I don’t believe people are trying to create ‘toxicity.’ They just don’t realize their impact.

  3. This is an excellent and meaningful point. I like how you’ve taken a complex set of behaviors and simplified them and put them into a performance context.

    The solution, or mitigation, is simple, yet difficult to do when the stakes are high. This blog post will do a great job in helping me position some of the ‘softer’ skills so necessary in leader performance.

  4. David,

    Actually I believe and have witnessed that some people do intend to do harm and do know of the impact of such intentions. This is often the case whenever individuals have self esteem, or the need to control others to make them feel good about themselves.

  5. Hi Leila, I partially agree with you. I believe some people intend to do harm, however, I believe they think they are also being effective managers. So, for example, the person who needs to put others down to feel better about themselves, thinks that they are adding value by scaring, threatening, being the ‘heavy’ to get people back to work, but they don’t realize that it actually has the opposite effect in the long run. Therefore, I believe they don’t know of the impact of their intentions. It is nonsensical to intentionally drive talented people away from an organization and yet, very intelligent managers do it all the time.

  6. I agree that one of the biggest problems in the workplace is lack of awareness of one’s impact on others. Regardless of intentions, when behaviors cause distress for coworkers, they distract people from getting on board with the message. Besides, as you have suggested, achieving results at the expense of relationships often has perilous downstream effects that can be much more costly than any short-term gains in outcomes. Talented employees do not stay where they do not feel respected.

  7. I agree that lack of awareness of one’s impact on others is a big problem in the workplace. Regardless of intentions, when someone’s behavior irritates or causes distress for coworkers, people can’t get on board with the message. Besides, as you have suggested, results achieved at the expense of relationships can have downstream negative consequences that are much too costly. Talented people do not stay with organizations where disrespectful behavior is tolerated.

  8. Hello. I would like to undertake an EI course with your Training firm and an EI test as well.

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