The Road to Hell (is Paved with Good Intentions)

By Barry Pruitt

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dateThu, Jan 26, 2017 @ 09:00 AM

I bet you recall with great clarity the time that you had good intent yet got negative results. Forget that youThe Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions meant to be helpful, accommodating, and complimentary - the result was negative, the feedback harsh, and you felt blindsided. Welcome to what has been described for decades as the road to hell … the one paved with good intentions.

As an entrepreneur, I can think of many examples where I’ve paved the wrong road. I have learned a simple strategy to help you pave the right road by triangulating on your best outcome. The process is simple in theory, a bit harder to execute, and powerful in results. The focus is on three points, in order, to triangulate the desired outcome: Intent, behavior, and impact.

Intent may appear obvious yet how often have you looked back on a conversation and recognized that you lost your intended path? That you began to pave the wrong road? Specifically determining your intent gives clarity and, a unique opportunity to call it out to the other party. Your language may be as simple as, “My intent is to (fill in the blank).” Yet, intent is not enough.

Behavior should now align with your intent. This includes the facial and body language “tells” that professional poker players try to cover with high collars, sunglasses, and hats. Behavior also includes your voice volume, pitch, tone, pauses, and language. This may start to sound complicated, but conscious application will help you make it a mental habit. The alignment of your intent with behavior a great start, but still not enough.

Impact is the third and necessary step of this approach. Impact is not a singular event. With practice, you’ll begin to notice the impact of each word, body movement, and response to all that you say and do. This awareness allows you to adjust your behavior if you are not creating an impact that aligns with your intent.

As past owner of a commercial cleaning business, I had twelve carpet cleaning trucks on the road. Our in-house trainer was charged with training and developing technicians. I often made spot inspections while work was being performed on location in an effort to maintain quality and production. One particular night, I arrived to find that the technicians were utilizing a technique that was effective, but took twice as long as a unique and different approach we had developed. I spent nearly an hour coaching and training this team how to do it. They became faster and increased their productivity. Success! Or was it? This would seem like a success to celebrate yet I had just undermined my team member in charge of training and hurt future scalability of the company. If only I had known how to triangulate on the desired outcome. My intent was a better-trained team, higher quality, and ultimately happy customers. The impact of my behavior was to undermine the credibility of a key player.

In another instance, as co-founder of a non-profit organization, I was dependent on volunteer help. There was one couple that had really been helpful in volunteer hours and effort. They were dedicated and anxious to make a difference. As Christmas approached, they invited my wife and me to a party that they were having at their home. I confirmed that we would attend. The night before the event, due to weather related travel delays, I spent the night at the airport. By the time I finally arrived home, it was just 2 hours until the event. I was exhausted and talked my wife out of going. I felt bad, but did nothing. My original intent was to go to the party, but later I changed it to rest and taking care of my health. The behavior of not showing up (and not calling) led to the outcome that they no longer volunteered.

Finally (perhaps), I began to learn my lesson. As the owner of a restaurant and private club located in the same building, I was keenly aware that good management was mandatory for profit. The manager of the private club was young with great potential. I had correctly determined that he needed coaching and support. It became apparent that his team had little respect for him, and I identified that it was either because of his age or perceived lack of real authority. A situation arose that was a fireable offense for one of his employees. He approached me regarding the situation and felt that the person should be fired. I agreed and he then asked if I would attend the meeting to give him credibility. I declined. Instead, I coached him how the meeting might go and how he might respond. Once he was confident, he set the meeting. I showed up (we had planned this) to be on scene when the employee arrived and shortly after the employee arrived, said goodnight to all and left.

He released her by himself like a seasoned – and caring – professional. It was interesting to see how fast his “stock” rose in the eyes of remaining employees. My intent was to allow this young manager to experience success, respect, and a strong team while holding everyone accountable. The impact was better adherence to policies and procedures, improved morale, and a greater respect for this young manager. Boom!      

As you work through this process, consider:

Be clear on your INTENT

  • What do I want the relationship to be like long-term?
  • What’s the best possible outcome?
  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • How do I best share my intent?

What BEHAVIOR will you use?

  • What am I doing with my body and what is it saying to the recipient?
  • What am I verbally saying? Am I nervous and talking too fast? Ambiguous?
  • What actions am I taking?
  • Are they responding appropriately/in alignment with my intent?

Watch the OUTCOME and adjust as needed

  • What result do I appear to be getting?
  • What is the impact on the other person, their response?
  • Is there alignment between my intent and the outcome(s) I see?
  • Should I adjust behavior to better reach the desired outcome? 

Having good intent is not good enough. You need good outcomes. Remember that the road to hell is paved with good intention. You can now pave the “right” road by triangulating your intent, behavior, and desired outcome.

Let me know where the road leads you – Barry

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

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Barry Pruitt


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images