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Applying the influence pyramid

Applying the influence pyramid
The 13th-century Persian poet and mystic Rumi once said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I find this saying both simple and complicated. It’s simple in the sense that if we are to cultivate meaningful and compassionate relationships, we inevitably need to be able to see beyond who is wrong and who is right. We need to connect with each other’s needs and feelings, but we fail to do this at times, and that is what makes the idea of outdoing right and wrong complicated in our relationships. Does this mean there is no way out? Let’s explore. The challenge Riya (name changed) got appointed at an organization to head the sales and marketing team. She efficiently navigated her day-to-day tasks, as did most of her colleagues.

Riya had one colleague in the team Bidhi (name changed), who was good at her work, but she rushed to complete most of her tasks only toward the end of the week. Even though she met her deadlines, her work pattern sometimes creates bottlenecks for Riya and other team members.

Riya tried communicating her concerns with Bidhi. She suggested ways that Bidhi could use to pace her work better. Riya asked Bidhi to correct her actions for the team to fare better, but Bidhi got defensive and said, “The previous supervisor never had a problem.” The solution The conversation between Riya and Bidhi becomes difficult despite good intentions. Eventually, both Riya and Bidhi sense that it will be tough to work together. Riya thinks Bidhi is self-centered, and Bidhi thinks Riya only focuses on appearing all-knowing because she is the supervisor. As days passed, Bidhi continued with her old patterns. When her colleagues intervened, she argued that they were trying to impress the new supervisor. Riya realized that her effort to ensure efficiency in the team had backfired. It then occurred to her that she didn’t approach Bidhi from an impact-focused Mindset, and perhaps it contributed more to the problem. Riya recalled learning about The Influence Pyramid from one of her mentors in the previous organization. She thinks now may be the right time to apply it. The Influence Pyramid developed by the Arbinger Institute shows us different steps to apply an Impact-focused Mindset. The pyramid comprises two sections: dealing with things going wrong and helping things go right. The pyramid consists of various courses of action in these two sections as follows: Correct: It’s the only step the section ‘dealing with things going wrong’ comprises. It’s what Riya tried to do with Bidhi. There is nothing wrong with correcting. Sometimes it’s enough to deal with minor issues that don’t require much effort, but it may backfire if people feel threatened by correction, which Bidhi might have experienced. She had a pattern of working that she was comfortable with. Nobody else had a problem with it until Riya asked her to change her ways. Teach and communicate: Riya realized she wanted to contribute to ‘helping things go right’ instead, which is what the pyramid invites us to do if the correction doesn’t suffice. Riya knew she had to help Bidhi understand how the team would benefit if everyone considered the impact of their work on others. Hence, Riya approached her to discuss what she envisions for the team, for which she would need cooperation from Bidhi. Listen and learn: Riya took a step forward from correcting to teaching and communicating with Bidhi, but the team could still sense some defensiveness from Bidhi. Riya then decided to hold space for Bidhi to listen to her and learn about her role, challenges, and what she enjoys at work. Bidhi didn’t cave in but eventually sensed that Riya cared for her and the team. She shared with Riya how she likes to work autonomously and under pressure because it helps her contribute well. But Bidhi also acknowledges that her preference might have created bottlenecks for others. Bidhi eventually decides to prioritize tasks that require input from others toward the beginning of the week and only then work on things she can do individually. Build the relationship: Riya knew she was responsible for helping Bidhi grow and learn. So, she had to continually make efforts toward building a good relationship with Bidhi. Riya checked in with Bidhi to know what she enjoys working on and where she needs support. Riya also shared her experiences with Bidhi to form a humanizing connection with her. She would sense that Bidhi sometimes thought all those efforts were just for better team results, but Riya didn’t let that get in her way. Riya knew that the team needed cohesion to grow together; that would not be possible until even one member felt left out. Hence, despite occasional resistance from Bidhi, she carried on. Build relationships with others who have influence: After learning about Bidhi’s role, challenges, and what gave her meaning, Riya connected with Bidhi’s immediate colleagues. She tried to understand how Bidhi’s actions impacted them and vice versa. It helped Riya identify how Bidhi and her close colleagues could support each other. Riya offered help to bridge any gaps that existed. Get out of the box/Obtain a heart at peace: Everything Riya tried—from correcting to teaching and communicating to listening and learning to building a relationship with Bidhi to building relationships with people who influence Bidhi are behaviors. They could come from either a Self-Focused or a People-Inclusive/Impact-focused Mindset. Hence, the base of the pyramid is about mindset-check. Even if any of the behaviors work, it’s still crucial that we work on developing a People-Inclusive/Impact-focused Mindset. The result Riya’s effort toward applying a People-Inclusive/Impact-focused Mindset and Bidhi’s eventual support helped them work well together. It eventually led to a culture of understanding and cooperation in the team. They faced challenges when the members got self-focused but made efforts to work their way out. Riya and Bidhi helped their colleagues learn and live the different steps of ‘The Influence Pyramid’ to enable an Impact-focused team. ‘The Influence Pyramid’ isn’t just a hack or a tool to help fix our mindset. It’s a logical sequence of actions we can resort to for creating team cohesion. There are some lessons to ‘The Influence Pyramid’ that can help us further:

  •   We need to make more efforts to ‘help things go right’ (i.e., at levels of the pyramid below correction) rather than ‘dealing with things going wrong.’
  •   If one level of the pyramid isn’t helping solve our problem, the level below can help us. For example, if correcting is not working, we might want to teach and communicate. If that isn’t working out, we perhaps need to listen and learn.
  •   The effort at each level of the pyramid will only be effective if we are effective at the base, i.e., developing an Impact-focused Mindset.
The author is the linchpin at My Emotions Matter, an education initiative that helps individuals and teams learn the mindset and skills of Emotional Intelligence. You can learn more at