“I didn’t mean to; it was an accident!” How many times have you heard this, from adults and children alike? How often do you say it (or think it to yourself)?

These sentences are indication of harm being done. And, while it may not be intentional, damage is damage.

As I think about it, most unintentional acts result from one simple cause: a failure to pay attention.

Not convinced? Think of some easy examples.

• You text while walking down the street and bump into another person, which is annoying. Or text while driving, which may be fatal.

• You don’t read instructions or legal documents carefully, so end up damaging equipment or making a costly error.

• You speak carelessly, making an insensitive comment that places your relationship with someone you care about in jeopardy or harms others you may not even know.

Are these risks worth it to you?

All of these situations and countless others could be prevented by focusing on what you are doing and envisioning the consequences of your actions.

Like so many things, this is easy to say, harder to do. We live in a culture that values speed and glorifies multi-tasking. These are two key drivers of inattention.

It’s ironic, as when you focus on one thing, you can get more done rather than flitting among different things.

And you are far less likely to make errors that harm yourself or someone else. When you slow down, you can make better plans, which prevents accidental errors in a project.

Take a moment to think about how this applies to you, and select a top priority to address.

For example, if you have a habit of not looking where you are going, physically train yourself to look ahead, not be looking all around.

You will be safer — less likely to fall or hurt someone else. I speak from experience on this one!

Another area is the realm of racial interactions with people of color.

As a white woman, it’s sadly easy for me to make insensitive comments and fail to understand the underlying dynamics that cause deep pain to people of color.

It takes effort to learn how to see the truth in these interactions because our background, culture, and ultimately white supremacy frame our understanding.

But if we don’t make this effort, we guarantee that we can’t move to a more just world. And our intent — we believe we want to be fair — is made inconsequential by the impact of the harm we cause.

So, what can you do?

It’s like anything: learn a new habit. Hold yourself accountable by setting expectations for yourself every day and then checking on your performance.

Prevent the behavior you want to avoid; for example, lock your cellphone in your trunk if that’s the only way to keep it out of your hands.

Educate yourself on the outcomes you want to achieve so that lack of information doesn’t increase the unintentional harm you cause.

Taking responsibility for your own actions in this way will help you grow as a person and will improve other people’s lives, too.


What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.