“All the world’s a stage” as Shakespeare put it; every act and line you perform has an effect on your audience. Knowing how your actions and words impact the world around you is key to being an effective influencer.
Influence is defined as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.”
Our impact will only go as far as we can spread it, but as John Maxwell says, we can multiply it by equipping others. Understand those around you well enough, and you can influence them to grow, mature and leave a lasting impression on the world far greater than what you could accomplish on your own.
In order to understand those around us well enough, we need to look at what makes up their culture, work, relationships, spiritual beliefs, purchasing habits, even food preferences.
Use Empathy to Understand Those Around You
But it’s hard to “just imagine” what it’s like to be someone else because we don’t have the experiences they do, we can’t truly understand them without immersing ourselves in their culture. Even then, to really understand someone requires years of relationship and vulnerability (from both parties).
Nonetheless, a mental empathy exercise can give you a head start in understanding them. Think about someone in your personal or professional life that you spend a decent amount of time with; pretend you’re in their shoes and ask yourself:
1. What do they think and feel?
What really counts for them?
What are they preoccupied with?
What are their worries and aspirations?
2. What do they see?
What environment do they spend time in?
Who are their friends and what do they see in them?
What does the market offer that they buy?
3. What do they say and do?
What’s their attitude in public?
What’s their appearance?
What’s their behavior toward others?
4. What do they hear?
What do they hear their boss say?
What do they hear their spouse / friends say?
What do they hear from their influencers?
5. Feel their pain, desire their gain.
What are their fears, frustrations and obstacles?
What are their wants / needs?
How would they define success?
Your goal is to “become the other person and go from there” as Ginny Whitelaw put it in her book, The Zen Leader. Understanding the people around you will shine a light on how your words and actions impact them. This understanding allows you to be intentional in helping them to grow and develop.
The Empathy Exercise
After considering these questions, set a timer for 4 minutes and list out 20 things (at the least) that you discovered about your audience. They may be things you already knew or new things, write them down either way.
Next, consider yourself for a moment; think about your background, personality and behaviors.
Looking at the list of 20 things, next to each item, write down how the things you say and do might impact that person. Is that the impact you were hoping to have?
I know I’m always surprised by how impactful my words and actions can be, and making this list really opens my eyes to how I might be more intentional in serving the person I’m thinking about. Our words carry weight, but our actions speak in volumes.
Empathy Is a Powerful Tool
Just like money, influence is a tool that can be used positively or negatively. The Empathy Exercise should help you recognize how your influence impacts those around you. Often we can have unintended consequences with our words and actions. Understand (and appreciate) the unique perspectives of those around you to make sure you’re leaving a positive and lasting impression that contributes to the world, not subtracts from it.