July 25th, 2014


This is an excerpt from my book Enlightening Technical Leadership.

When we want to influence others, it helps to be aware of what is influencing us. When you want to influence someone to do something, or to think or feel a certain way, first ask yourself a simple question: why do you want to influence this person? Spend some time with your response. Carefully observe the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise. Then, ask yourself if you can accept not having control of the outcome. If your answer is no, then you are being controlled (by your drives), and have far less freedom to influence others. If your answer is yes, then you’re less likely to get in your own way.

One of the ways I like to visualize influence is with the following analogy. Your influence is like a flashlight that can selectively emit different wavelengths of light at different levels of brightness. Each wavelength corresponds to a perspective that you can take. The more you have refined a given perspective, the brighter you can emit that wavelength. The more perspectives you can take, the more wavelengths you can emit. When you influence someone, you metaphorically stand next to them and invite them to envision their surroundings, including yourself and even themselves, as illuminated by your flashlight.

The impact of the brightness setting is unmistakable. When an expert illuminates a topic to a degree we’ve never seen before, our very way of thinking can be influenced. But influencing someone, of course, isn’t just a matter of turning up the brightness as high and as fast as possible. If you light up too much of the scene, the person can lose focus. They’re given too much content without enough context. The practice here is to center the light on a well known area, and expand accordingly from there. If you light up a scene too quickly, this can temporarily blind them. They may turn away in discomfort from something that they might otherwise find useful. To relate to that, think about a situation where you had a misconception about something and someone pounced on that, firing off a barrage of explanations of just how wrong you were. The practice here is to raise the level of lighting at a pace that the person can handle.

The wavelength setting is more complex. The perception of the person you are communicating with is shaped by their inner lenses. Some wavelengths may be amplified positively, others may be amplified negatively, and still others may be dampened, modified, or not even seen. When you communicate on a wavelength that resonates with them, influence is natural. When you don’t, things feel out of sync. What can you do in the latter case, if you can’t find a workable wavelength? What about a scenario where your brightest wavelengths seem to be unfavorably perceived by them, and you can’t generate the wavelength that seems to dominate their decision making process?

One thing you can do is to reflect on the dominant wavelength of the other person. Observe how your inner lenses/layers are filtering that wavelength. See if you can surface any unconscious reactions and withdraw any projections. As you do this, you will find that your flashlight can start to generate that wavelength. When it reaches a utilitarian level of brightness, you will be able to articulate that perspective within a neutral context, without feeling threatened or forcing a value judgment on it.

Now, you can make an informed decision on a key question – is their dominant perspective an important growth area for you, at the current time? If it is, you can take the time to actively develop that wavelength to a higher level of brightness that will resonate more strongly. If it isn’t, you can more confidently channel your energy into areas that are important to your growth. The utilitarian level of brightness you have developed with this wavelength will help keep you from being blindsided, even as you focus on other wavelengths. You’ll gain a better sense of where to assert your influence, and where not to actively intervene.

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