Positive Masculinity Contributor - Travis Stock
Master Certified Life Coach, Equus Coaching Master Facilitator, Teacher, and Host of The New Masculine Podcast
As men and masculine-identifying people, it is often easy to understand and value the concept of making an impact. Most of us have an inner voice that drives us to assess our legacy and the impact we make or will make on the world. It sits comfortably in many of us to identify a future goal, break it down into measurable steps, and apply ourselves toward achievement. But how do we work toward goal achievement in our relationships? How do we notice or measure the impact we have on those around us? For many of us, all of this becomes a lot less clear.
I believe that lack of clarity mainly comes down to our socialization. From a young age, children socialized as boys are often encouraged to compete, win, conquer and dominate. This can be seen in the way little boys wrestle, are encouraged to participate in competitive sports (and to win at those sports!), and the toys, like guns or race cars, that are socially acceptable for boys. All of this teaches those socialized as boys about power, winning and goal achievement while missing what’s happening for the others around us. Children socialized as girls, however, are encouraged to play in ways that are cooperative, caretaking and relational. Examples include caring for a doll, playing house, or setting up a tea party, all of which hone relational skills which they carry into adulthood.
So how do we as men improve the quality of our relationships? Two important concepts I have found that help improve the health of my relationships are to examine both my intention and my impact. Google’s Oxford Languages defines intention as “something intended; an aim or a plan.” This is our goal – what we want and hope will happen with important people in our lives. The Collins English Dictionary defines impact as, “the power of an event, idea, etc. to produce changes, move the feelings, etc.” In other words, it’s the response, reaction and/or feedback we get from others. An example from my life to explore these concepts looks like: my intention to support and care for my partner during a particularly stressful time in his work life. That intention leads me to taking on some extra household responsibilities like cooking, cleaning the apartment, and handling the care of our asthmatic cat which takes those responsibilities off his plate. Later that night, he shares the impact this has had by saying, “I really appreciate you taking care of dinner tonight. Today was so stressful, and it’s nice to just be able to relax with you.” My intention and impact are aligned!
What happens – and how might I react – when my intention and my impact don’t align? For example, I recently intended to help my friend through a challenging situation where she felt worried and anxious about a decision in her life. I offered my advice on what decision she should make and even pointed out one last element to think about that might alter her decision. Helpful, right? Well, her worry about it all increased and she ended up snapping at me. One way I could navigate this situation is to become defensive and frustratedly proclaim that I was well-intentioned. From there, our anger will continue to bounce off of each other and create a huge chasm in our relationship. Another way I could approach this is to slow it down and explore the gap between my intention (to help) and impact (conflict). How can I collect other information that will be helpful in this situation? I could try to empathize with her experience. Well known shame and vulnerability researcher, Brené Brown says, “In order to empathize with someone’s experience, you must be willing to believe them as they see it and not how you imagine their experience to be.” By putting myself in my friend’s shoes, I might notice that my attempts to help are not actually what she was asking for or needed. From there, I can adjust my approach and just ask what would actually be helpful. She shares, “I just need you to listen and not try to fix this for me.” Here I was problem-solving when it turns out I just needed to listen to align my intention and impact.
I see examples of these misalignments most especially in my coaching work that involves horses, called Equus Coaching®. As an Equus Coaching Master Facilitator, I take people into an experiential, embodied, and relational learning environment where they have to build a relationship with a being that doesn’t speak the same language as they do, a horse. In this experience, I have seen a powerful new awareness surface for men around their relational tendencies. A recent example involved my work with an executive director (ED) and his leadership team. During our time together, I paired the ED with one of his male staff members in an exercise that involved a horse and an obstacle course (barrels, cones, jumps, etc.) set up in an arena. I challenged these two men to pick an obstacle and work together non-verbally toward getting the horse through it. The ED’s overall intention is to empower his staff to lead so that he can eventually take a step back in the organization. So, for this exercise he wanted to step into a support role and give his staff member an opportunity to lead. Within 90 seconds of the exercise starting, the ED was rushing ahead, running after the horse alone, and forgetting to check in with his partner. Spoiler alert: they were not successful at getting the horse through the obstacle! From there, we talked about the gap between his intention (to empower his staff member to lead) and the impact (disempowering the staff member’s leadership). The staff member shared his disappointment that they weren’t successful at achieving their goal and worried the ED didn’t trust him because he didn’t actually have a chance to lead. As the ED reflected on this feedback, he noticed that often this same pattern shows up in their day-to-day work. When given another opportunity to try the exercise, he shifted his approach by following the guidance of the staff member and regularly checking in through eye-contact to ensure they were on the same page. By aligning his actions with the intention he set, the impact this pairing had was drastically different. A smile still comes across my face when I remember their excitement and celebrations when the horse went through the chosen obstacle successfully.
Our socialization as boys into men doesn’t often ask us to practice skills like empathy and noticing how we impact others. They are skills, however, that can be developed. In my work with men as a life coach, I have found the following to be useful practices to explore intention and impact within relationships. The first option occurs after a moment of challenge/stress/conflict in any relationship. Ask yourself a series of questions like: “What did I want to happen?” – gets to intention. “What was the actual result?” – gets to impact. “How do I want to feel in this relationship?” “How are my actions moving me closer/farther from what I want?” Much like in the example I shared when trying to help my friend, answering these questions will give you clues for how to better align your intention and impact.
Once you’ve done some of this self-reflection, the next option is to ask for feedback from those you’re close to and trust. Choose a friend, partner, or relative and ask questions like, “What do you see in me?” or “How do you feel when we are together?” I spoke with an author recently who, in his book, reflects on his shortcomings in an attempt to redefine his own manhood. In order to write the book, he chose to see himself through the eyes of the most important women in his life. When he asked for feedback from his wife, she pointed out his way of expressing anger was leading their children to be fearful. He had no idea! While his intention was to have loving and safe relationships with his kids, the unintended consequence of fear was his impact. With this feedback, he was able to find new outlets for his emotions which removed the source of fear for the children. Two important pieces to be aware of with this type of practice: Feedback can sometimes be challenging to hear, so make sure you trust and feel safe with the person giving the feedback; And second, do your best to hold any reactivity. Sit with the feedback, even if you initially disagree, get curious about what, if anything, is helpful to you.
My invitation to you is to bring this type of exploration into your life. Doing the work to align your intention and impact can not only help you be more effective, but can also substantially improve the quality of your relationships. As you play with it, be honest – but also gentle – with yourself, remain curious, and be open to experimenting with new ways of showing up.