My last post introduced the idea of auditing the forces that can enable or block influence and co-operation. There are lots of forces that are specific to individual situations. But I wondered whether there were universal forces that we should acknowledge whenever we try to exert influence.

So, I drew two triangles and thought about eight words.

Two triangles. The left hand one points up like a pyramid with the words (from bottom to top) Autonomy, Integrity, Expediency, Ego. The right hand one points down with labels top to bottom Mutual respect, openness, Trust and mutual benefit.

Autonomy – I think everyone wants some degree of autonomy and freedom. Telling and directing is not always the best way to get someone to do what you want. How might you maintain a stakeholders sense of control and autonomy while effectively influencing?

Integrity – people want to maintain a sense of integrity. This might be moral integrity – their actions are consistent with the values. Or it might be another type of consistency. People are reticent to change their mind and change direction. Do you understand the context from which stakeholders are operating? Do you have the right level of empathy for their perspective? How might you build on the idea of integrity to influence?

Expediency – as much as consistency is important, sometimes timing is more important. Are there features about the current context that increase your chances to influence?

Ego – for a proportion of people, ego will drive decision making. Are there ways to stoke, stroke or exploit ego to move towards your target? Are there behaviours driven by your own ego that are getting in the way of your success?

Mutual respect – demonstrating and building a relationship of mutual respect moves things beyond ego and authority. I’m not sure you can fake respect – and if you do then it’s less likely to work. How might you cultivate mutual respect in every relationship? What would be the risk if you approached people assuming they’re smart, competent and able to help you?

Openness – being open with information increases the chances of you and your stakeholders spotting opportunities for collaboration. It also increases the impulse for reciprocity in others. If (in old world thinking) information is power, being open with information can break toxic power relationships and move them towards more productive collaboration. Don’t obfuscate or use complex language when simple language will do*. And if you don’t know something, admit it.

Trust – this is the heart of every successful team and every effective collaboration. Trust takes effort to build and is easy to break or undermine. Trust is dependent on honesty. But there are ways to short cut the building of trust. Making promises and keeping them is one way to establish and build trust. Openness will also underpin and provide a foundation for trust. Don’t wait for the other person to prove their ‘worth’ before trusting them – they might be doing the same thing.

Mutual benefit – it’s rare that people will actively undermine their own interests. A sense of identity and autonomy means that most people understand what they want. If you don’t acknowledge that each person has a specific interest, you miss the opportunity to use empathy and careful consideration to understand that perspective. Pure altruism is rare. Identifying mutual benefits is a more reliable strategy. If you enter into negotiations thinking that there are winners and losers, you reduce the types of outcomes you can achieve – and your chance of being a loser exists. What happens if you reduce those options further to: successful negotiations only end with winners. How might you design every relationship for mutual benefit?

I think perhaps the two triangles are related in some way. I suspect that the core of trust is an important linking concept. I hope that the arrangement means something – I think of the arrangement of autonomy, integrity, expediency and ego as describing a sort of hieararchy of need. Perhaps the left hand behaviours (characteristics of a relationship) are strategies to meet these needs?

* Irony alert!