I want to to be powerful and influential but I don't want to be manipulative.
What is the difference between influence and control?
The difference between control and influence is like the difference between night and day.
When you take control of another person, that person behaves exactly how you wish them to behave. It doesn't matter whether their heart is in it, it doesn't matter if they're on board, it doesn't matter if they're forcing themselves to comply with your orders.
There's a huge disadvantage to control.
When a person is being controlled, they lose access to all of their inner resources: their imagination, their ingenuity, their passion. So in order to maintain a position of control over another, you constantly have to reinforce whatever behavior that you want the person you’re controlling to exhibit.
Influence, on the other hand, is an entirely different ballgame . . .
I want you to imagine for a second that you're a dominatrix, and you're working in a dungeon.
You've taken the position of authority. Your job is literally to embody authority. Your job is to make the rules. The person coming to you, the submissive, their job is to follow the rules.
Imagine that every order you give is followed perfectly. To the letter.
Stand up. Sit down. Get on all fours. Bark like a dog. Come here. Go there.
Can you possibly imagine how boring these sessions would become after just a couple hours?
If I'm just there in a room giving orders, there is nothing that the other person gets to contribute other than their very basic execution of my requests.
Think about what this means in the context of a business, or in the context of a relationship. What happens has nothing to do with connection. It’s simple acquiescence. When your orders are contrary to the best interests of the individual, this is the recipe for tyranny. Over a long enough period of time it results in total shutdown and, ultimately, rebellion.
An employee does what he’s asked, but nothing more: his engagement plummets. A loved one says, ‘yes, dear’ but their heart isn’t there anymore: they’re just going through the motions and, other than their obedience, their own individual contribution to the dynamic is nowhere to be seen.
And of course, eventually, the subjects of the despotic tyrant object. At that point, the tyrant begins to apply force in order to squash resistance.
This is the model of control and coercion that we have in the world today and it is responsible for so much of what’s wrong in our world, between men and women, and between different social groups.
Now let’s return to our dominatrix example. There are moments where a submissive does not give me an outright no, but it becomes very apparent through their body language or behavior that something got triggered, or that I lost the thread somehow. It feels as though they're not there. They checked out. Or, something happened and they shut down.
These are all forms of resistance, whether someone actually gives me an outright no, or whether I simply lose them.
Instead of ignoring it and barking the next order, I place my attention on their point of resistance and say something like, “are you scared?"
Suddenly, we have a new landscape to play with. Suddenly, I'm not alone in a room barking orders at a machine of a man. Something in them is once again available to play.
Something's getting discovered and they become an active co-creator of the experience. The first moment I notice that resistance, receive a no, or watch somebody step out of my control; those are the best ones. Those are the moments where you have a profound opportunity to influence, rather than control.
When you think about what this means for for relationships between human beings, the implications are clear. A boss asks something challenging of an employee and notices that, even though they are saying yes, something feels off. Her employee is less present than they were a moment ago, So the boss probes deeper, led by true curiosity.
“You seem uncertain about this, is that true?”
The other person now can contribute. He expresses his concerns that his schedule is too tight, or that he doesn’t have all the right information, or that he actually thinks his boss is making a mistake. Together, they work to uncover what’s hidden. In that process, they build trust.
Imagine what this type of curiosity would look like if a person, in the middle of a romantic encounter, noticed that their partner’s nonverbal cues were signaling discomfort.
They might stop and ask, “It seems that you’re in some discomfort, is that true? Should we slow down? Is there something I can do?”
The conversation or reaction sparked by that question could potentially transform this couple’s dynamic in that moment. It could empower both people to have similar conversations with every one of their partners from that point forward.
When I talk about influence, this is what I’m talking about. Moments of connection, rather than control, that have the power to change the dynamic between two people, and give everyone a chance to get what they need.