Ruminations on Influence

The heart of consulting, as Peter Block has so succinctly put it, is “influencing without direct authority.” That holds for those of us who work as external consultants as well as anyone in a staff role working internally. Therefore, it seems worth thinking about the source and process of influence.

Since I hold a master’s degree in “science” (yes, the standard deviations in our science are large), let me try a simple formulation:

Influence ƒ Expertise x Relationships

What I like about this formulation is that, if either value is low, our influence is low. And if either is “zero”—our influence is nil as well.

Let’s take a brief look at both. Generally, we get hired for our expertise either as internal or external consultants. There seem to be two corollaries around expertise:

Relationships most frequently represent the greatest opportunity for us to improve our influence. Consider some of the following aspects of self-management that affect the quality of relationships.

A tool I learned several years ago that helps me in regard to the questions above is Chris Argyris’ notion of the “left-hand column.”[1] When a conversation doesn’t go well, the tool can be used to diagnose why. Here’s how it works. If you’re reflecting on a meeting or conversation that did not go as you wanted, take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. In the right hand column, write down what was said, trying to keep all the quotes verbatim without judgment or interpretation. In the left-hand column, write down what you were thinking but did not say. More often than not, those unsaid thoughts transfer into the actual conversation.

For me, the most difficult issues in managing a relationship has been at times managing myself, and moving from judgment to compassion and from wanting to look smart to wanting to serve. These are still tendencies. I’m still a work in process.



[1] I learned this concept while working in a training and development capacity at ATT from a consulting partner, Innovation Associates. Their work focused on Peter Senge’s writing in The Fifth Discipline, which in turn was strongly influenced by Argyris, who was then teaching at Harvard Business School.