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Big Ideas

How Influential Are You?

Most of us are much more influential than we know. Start understanding your power by recognizing the impact of every little action.

How influential are you? If I asked most people that question, the answer would probably be, “Not very.” If I asked you who is influential, you’d likely point out famous leaders, great artists, perhaps celebrities, maybe even scientists, or some of your past teachers. But this is not the whole story. When we only recognize the influence of those we look up to, we are leaving out an important consideration: The powers that each and every one of us naturally possess.To see what I mean, take a moment to write down all the people who influence you throughout your day. First, think of the courteous people, the friendly people, and the other people whose actions affect you in a positive way.It might be a bus driver that waited for you instead of driving off. Or someone more significant, like a mentor that helped you make a decision that paid off tremendously.  Think about how you feel and think after you interact with them: You likely feel better about your day and your world. They may even encourage you to behave more generously yourself.

Once you’ve done that, think about all the negative people you met. Note the effect they have on you, from annoyance to major disturbance. Maybe your boss presented your work as his or her own, and it really got under your skin. Or perhaps a friend you were supposed to meet for dinner cancelled on you at the last minute and you got upset.

Finally, contemplate these instances from the opposite perspective. Take all those times of influence and imagine how, when the tables are turned, YOU have had the same positive (and sometimes) negative influence on others.

The point of this exercise isn’t therapeutic. Rather, it’s to demonstrate how great a capacity every single one of us has to influence those around us. It’s not that we don’t have influence: all of us do, and plenty of it. The problem is that many of us fail to recognize our power to influence. As a result, we don’t harness it for the good of ourselves and others.

Influence is not all-powerful, of course. But if we want to be effective advocates for our ideas, it pays to be aware of our ability to influence the outcome of different situations.

Think about times when you want someone to make a big decision in your favor. If the choice isn’t obvious, then what makes that person decide will be based on the influence that you exercised. If it’s a job interview and you were punctual, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the position, how do you think that will influence the person doing the hiring? If you were none of those things, how do you think that will influence their decision?

If you treat the people who work for you poorly, how do you think that will affect the way they do their work? Likewise, if you make an effort to be open, honest, fair, direct, generous with praise for work well done and constructively criticize when it is not, how do you think that will affect them?

The more aware you become of the influence you have, the quicker you will realize that you influence everyone you come into contact with in some way. And, with the rise of social media, the number of people you come into contact with has grown exponentially, further increasing your chance to influence those who surround you.

Don’t sell yourself – or your creative endeavors – short. Start today by recognizing the potential you have to influence others, and exercising it mindfully.

What Do You Think?

Do our actions have more impact on others than we sometimes realize?
Comments (41)
  • Oscar Gonzalez

    Right on the money! Being influential is all about the little bits and pieces of everyday life. And just like you pointed out, we take it just as much as we dish it out. We just need to be more mindful so that we can recognize these mini-events.

  • blm

    Thanks, Oscar! Yes, mindfulness and then planning to be influential can significantly increase your influence.

  • Joannemacdonald

    I think about this everyday.
    It has been my experience that sometimes the simplest gesture (like making eye contact & smiling at someone who appears to be having a bad day, or merely saying hello to someone who looks lonely or sad, or angry, or frustrated) can be tremendously influential.
    I believe that all humans, appreciate ( and maybe even “need”) just be acknowledged once in awhile.
    Thanks for writing this article!

  • Brian Driggs

    Timely post. Methinks I could work a bit more on not letting my frustrations with shared situations impact my interactions with those in the situations with me.

    “You don’t get it. Okay. Cool. How can I help you get it?”

  • Drew C David

    John Maxwell says, “leadership is influence.” I agree! I also believe that everyone actively and/or passively influencing others – not just those that have the title “leader.”

    How can we best remind ourselves (besides reading this post on a daily basis) that we are influencers with or without a title?

  • blm

    Thanks for responding, Joanne! And you are right: politeness and kindness have the ability to influence people far beyond what we might expect. Sometimes you might never know, and sometimes, like I wrote here http://berniemichalik.posterou… you might.

  • blm

    Brian, good comment! The frustration is understandable, and it’s something I feel myself. In those situations, I do try to step back and ask, what do I want to achieve? Venting my frustration may stop some bad short term behavior. My experience has been, though, that trying to turn that around and instead encourage good behavior pays off better and for the longer term, and also results in less frustration overall.

    Like a lot of things, what is straightforward to say is not always easy to do. But the more you exercise such behavior and influence, the easier it gets and the more results you achieve.

  • blm

    Drew, that is a good maxim. You can lead by your deeds and by your words. Both have ways of influencing people.

    I think one way of reminding yourself is to incorporate influencing others into your day to day activities. For example, at work, ask yourself: how often do I speak up in meetings or in informal gatherings with my colleagues? If it is very little, then plan to speak up more often, in particular when topics come up where feedback is required. Even more so if you are considered an expert on a topic. Many times people in your group will be unsure of what to do. You can use your expertise to influence the group to decide to take one action over another.

    Likewise, if your boss or your client asks for your opinion on something, take a moment (or longer) to think about your response. Think about the options available, think about what you believe is best, and then think about how your can influence your boss or client to make the best decision. Sometimes this will be easy: other times it will require alot of effort to deal with any objections. Either way, it is a great way to exert your influence.

    In your personal life, review how you carry yourself and how you interact with others around you. Write down your typical behavior and ask yourself what sort of influence that has on others? Is it good? If so, can you do more of that? If it is bad, how can you turn that around? Set S.M.A.R.T. goals and plan to achieve them.

    I hope you find this helpful. Thanks again, Drew.

  • Joe McCarthy

    I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of being mindful of the influence we so often unconsciously wield.

    One of my favorite articulations of this concept is by Don Miguel Ruiz, in the first of his Four Agreements:

    “Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

    I wrote a bit more about this agreement, and its application to politics – and schoolyard bullying – after attending a meeting of the Coffee Party (and contrasting it with the Tea Party) a year ago: be impeccable with your word: confrontation vs. condescension and intimidation.

  • Steve @GraphicDesignBoss

    I remember sitting down with a cousin chatting about a guy who wanted to date her. She said “he wasn’t her normal type and wasn’t sure.” I said “what does she have to lose?” 10 years later she is married with 2 kids to the same guy. She recounts our conversation as a pivotal moment in her life.

    (I live in Australia, she lives in the UK. We only met for a cup of coffee for about an hour while I was in London)

    I look back on that moment and now understand the influence I brought to bear there. In the moment I didn’t understand the weight of my words, my influence.

    We all influence each other to a greater or lesser degree. I think our influence is impacted by our reputation. Our reputation adds weight to our words and increases the impact what we say because of the respect people have for us.

  • true religion jeans

    Hi, Thanks for sharing such a wonderful piece of information. I must say that while reading your post I found my thoughts in agreement with the topic that you have discussed, which happens very rare.

  • chi flat iron

    It doesn’t matter that it was found close to home, I think the whole thing is just wonderful. I want to try it myself. You just never know who you could connect with. It’s like a story waiting to be written. Can’t wait to try it

  • USA web developer

    Excellent post.thanks for sharing with us. this article is very helpful for us.

  • blm

    Thanks for your comments, Joe. Your article has quite alot of detail on that: I highly recommend that anyone interesting in the Four Agreements go check on the page you linked to.

  • blm

    Wow! That’s a great example, Steve, and a very powerful one. Thanks for sharing that here. And I agree with you: reputation affects influence. Though you can have influence even with strangers, depending on the context.

  • blm

    Thanks for reading it and sharing your thoughts.

  • blm

    That’s great! Thank you.

  • Hyper Creativity

    The amount of value others place on you, determines the amount of influence you have on them.

  • blm

    Certainly! They can value you for a wide variety of reasons be it your experience, your wisdom, your intuition, and many more things. It could be because they admire you, love you, or even aspire to be like you. Whatever it is, such value goes along way to amplifying the influence that you have.

    That said, sometimes even strangers can have influence on others.

  • K-eM

    I often remind people to be open to influence from anyone regardless of where they are in the hierarchy.

    Our agency assistant had a great idea for filing our project folders but the manager discarded it, maybe didn’t even pay attention to what the assistant was saying. So the assistant came to me because she knew I would listen. I listened to her pitch then pitched it to the manager who thought it was a great idea. I had to gently point out that the assistant was the one who came up with it and had pitched it to her only days before. The manager allowed me to influence her and almost lost out on a good idea because she didn’t allow the assistant to influence her.

    So just because someone is lower down in pay grade doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have influence. They can contribute if you let them.

  • blm

    I must say, too, that your assistant was smart in that, rather than get discouraged, she took an alternative approach to achieve what she wanted. There are lots of ways of being influential and not all of them will be direct.That said, it would be beneficial to your organization, as you pointed out, if employees could be more direct.

    Thanks for that story!

  • Amy Ruberg

    Thanks, great insight–needed it this week. I’ve been reactive to stress, not proactive and generous. Thanks for your positive influence in my week.

  • Joy Cherie

    Hmmmm, I would love for you to go more in depth on this topic. You’ve got me thinking. I’m a timid little person and don’t consider myself to be very influential on the other hand I am puzzled by acquaintances/friends often positive interpretations of me. Can’t figure it out what to do with that.

  • blm

    You’re welcome, Amy! BTW, sometimes you can use your influence to relieve stress in various ways. For example, if your stress is due to conflict with another person, can you influence their behavoir to relieve the stressful situation? If you can’t, can you treat others in a way that they will respond in a way that makes you feel better and helps with your stress as well.

    Just some ideas. good luck, Amy.

  • blm

    Hi Joy. May I recommend a presentation by a colleague of mine, Sacha Chua? It is here:… and it is about how to be influential even if you are shy. That’s one way to influence people directly.

    Of course you can influence people in many ways indirectly just by the way you treat them. Politeness, kindness, being complimentary, taking time to listen to them and acknowledge what you heard: all of them are ways to influence people and you can still be someone who considers themselves shy while you are doing it.

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