Just because we’re not pouting on Instagram and taking selfies of our lifestyle, doesn’t mean we’re not influencing all day every day. One of my favourite meditation teachers talks about how at one level nothing matters, and at another level, everything matters, including every interaction with every passing stranger, more than you can possibly imagine. At best that can sound deliberately, zen-koan-level confusing. At worst the implications could seem entirely overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The simple awareness that each moment of communication is loaded with potential, is enough to change the quality of our interactions.
I want to explore therefore in this 4-part series the issue of influencing – our impact on the people and world around us, why it matters, and how we can intentionally go about improving that influence for the good of all.
As a starting point I think it’s useful to consider our conscious and unconscious influencing. We’re aware of the influence we have with our direct reports for instance and often put quite some thought into being a positive and supportive role model for them. We may be aware of our influence on our manager – directly when we go to them with a suggestion or request and indirectly by how we go about our work.
We are perhaps a little less aware of our influence on our peers in a team meeting for instance where our impact seems diluted by the group and even more so if we have little to contribute on the topic. Still, as soon as we stop to think about it, it becomes immediately apparent that even the look on our face and our body language – our sense of attention and interest in the subject – is affecting the speaker and other listeners.
If we filter down that funnel even further, as we walk around the office to go visit someone at their desk or get ourselves a cup of tea, the way we walk, our gait, our pace, our posture and facial expressions affect those around us.
In fact the list of influencing situations in daily life is continuous and endless in every spoken word, action and inaction:
- In our email correspondence – the words we use, our expansiveness or bluntness, how long we delay before getting back and indeed if we get back at all, speak volumes to the other party
- In our phone conversations – how we listen, how we engage, where we pause and how we give feedback and acknowledgement as we go. Are we obviously distracted and looking at Facebook or getting on with other work as we speak?
- How we answer questions – whether casual, on-the-fly questions around the office or more formally during a meeting or presentation. How willing are we to help? Have we tried to understand the question fully and properly? Do we care about them and their difficulties or concerns? Are we irritable or condescending?
- Daily small talk – are we genuinely interested in the people around us, their lives, their interests or hobbies or are we straight down to business? Neither is right or wrong, but it’s all influence and impact.
In an average 8 hour day, there are 28,800 seconds. In an open plan office, you are influencing in some way during every one of those seconds. Even if you hide away in a meeting room for an hour, you’re likely working on a report that will be read by someone and will therefore influence them in some way.
On that basis, it would be preposterous to not consider influencing to be a primary skill of our job. Not secondary, not peripheral, not nice to have, but absolutely front and centre, certainly as critical as our technical skills and arguably more so. We will require this skill in every career, industry and role and if it hasn’t crossed your mind already, we equally need it at home with family and friends.
If this is not on everybody’s list to consciously and deliberately develop as a skill, you are doing yourself a competitive disservice. There are endless resources online these days. Avail yourself of them. Attend a course if only to bring it top of mind again (we’re here to help), but even if you don’t the mere awareness of the power of each interaction as a moment of influence, will help you be more thoughtful and effective in your relationships.