The Issue with Ascribed Intent

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of ascribed intent, or making judgments about the intentions of others based on their actions when you may not have the full story.

Think about this. How many times have you sent a text message and not received one in return? This person probably hates you and never wants to talk to you again, right?

text-gnat-messageWe are always thinking of the worst possible scenario. Why do we ascribe a missed text to a failing friendship or relationship? Why do we think someone snickering across the room must be talking about us? Why do we immediately determine the person who cut us off in traffic is cold-hearted and definitely did it on purpose?

I forget to respond to text messages (or tweets) all the time. My intentions are in the right place. I want to respond. I think about my response. Then, as I’m about to type it out, something takes my attention away from my phone…and I flat out forget.

I’d like to think that most of the things that worry us or put us in a bad mood can be described as unintentional. Don’t get me wrong, the action is there. Things happen that can make us upset. However, the thing that tends to upset us most is the intent we ascribe to the action.

In realizing this, there are three things that I’ve pushed myself to remember and put into action.

  1. Live intentionally

Knowing that everyone around me will judge my intent no matter what, I might as well make it easy for them. Using words and taking actions that direct these ascriptions can help remove tension, avoid animosity, and limit misunderstandings.

  1. Stop it

Don’t ascribe intent. At least not in a negative way. This one is really, really difficult. It is not easy to say: “I’m sure they meant well,” or “They must have had something come up.” However, when I move toward this type of thinking, I find it much easier to keep a smile on my face and a positive outlook.

  1. Forgive others the way you forgive yourself

I know, I know, this sounds like a line from the Our Father, but hear me out. When I do something wrong, I always think: “It’s alright. That’s not really who I am. I’ll do better from now on.” For some reason, we don’t give this same lenience to those around us. When someone else does something wrong, we say: “What were you thinking? You’re so irresponsible. I hate you” (We may not always go to this extreme, but I hope you get my point). Forgiving others quickly – and I mean actually forgiving them the way you forgive yourself – will remove stress from your life; I guarantee it.


 At the end of the day, I don’t believe people want to hurt other people (if you disagree with this statement, you should probably start spending time with different people). However, our mistaken judgements about others’ intentions often lead us to think differently. I challenge you to join me in reminding yourself on a regular basis of the 3 points above, and don’t forget to let me know how it works for you (@FOCUS_Kyle).

Photo Credit: http://www.exboyfriendrecovery.com/chase-theory-how-to-make-your-ex-boyfriend-chase-you-again/

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About kwillkom

Founder, keynote speaker, author at Action Packed Leadership. I'm on a mission to help young people become the best version of themselves.

One response to “The Issue with Ascribed Intent”

  1. JSH says :

    Thanks for this short and sweet thing. I know I do this a lot and I try REALLY hard to follow those steps in my own life.

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