Do You Know Your Influence on Others?

When was the last time someone asked you to describe yourself? What did you say? Was it easy?

I find it interesting that most of our thoughts and energy focus on issues that impact us – our “self.” But I can’t say I’ve spent much time thinking about how my “self” has evolved. Why am I the way I am?

The book Selfless: The Social Creation of “You” by Dr. Brian Lowery offers a thought-provoking exploration of  “self.” It’s way more than an individual’s body and mind.

I understand that who I am is shaped by my upbringing and experiences. Still, I didn’t really consider all the nuances of experiences in terms of the relationships throughout my life that continue to shape who I am. It’s not static. My relationships are constantly influencing me, and changing my thoughts and opinions.

Our social structure, geography, and environments in which we live shape who we are. One key element of the environment is our relationships. How we are treated has a lot to do with the social structure and existing biases. Some of that bias may exist based on your geography. Geography significantly impacts the available opportunities and economic outcomes an individual can achieve.

If you wake each morning faced with the challenge of meeting basic needs, like food and shelter, your “self” will be described very differently than those whose basic needs are not top of mind. Think about how you interact with someone asking for money. Do you treat them the same as others? Do you make eye contact? Engage in conversation? Sadly, for many of us, the answer is “no.” That lack of relationship shapes the “self” of those in need.

Our families, friends, romantic partners, co-workers, and leaders affect who we have been, are, and can be. The author states, “We live our lives in complex relation to people and systems. We can only create from what’s available to us.” 

If we are all products of relationships, how can we positively influence our relationships with others?

Gaining this insight, I now see how my “self” is impacting those around me.

That got me thinking: What impact can I have in shaping others’ “self”?

This requires us to think broadly about how we show up. What behaviors do we exhibit?

One way I can start to name those behaviors is to ask the question: “What do I want people to think or feel after spending time with me?”

Here are a few examples that come to mind for me:

  • “I felt heard. She gave me her full attention and asked good questions.”
  • “She offered words of encouragement. She was able to offer examples of how I’m contributing.”
  • “She told me what others were afraid to say. She gave me critical feedback, but it was delivered in a way that made me know she was telling me for my benefit.”
  • “She is genuinely interested in me and makes me laugh.”
  • “I always learn something from our conversations.”
  • “She’s well-read and offers great suggestions for books and podcasts.”
  • “I’m energized by our conversations.”

Now, when you break each of these down, it’s easier to name the behaviors that would have been demonstrated. That gives me the roadmap of knowing how to show up. For example:

  • Be present – remove distractions, listen closely, make eye contact
  • Ask open-ended questions; talk less
  • Words matter – tone matters; choose wisely and deliver messages with compassion
  • Don’t take myself too seriously; look for ways to lighten the mood
  • Openly share knowledge and experience
  • Be curious and seek to learn
  • Read the room; recognize emotions and others and show empathy

By naming the behaviors, it raises awareness and boosts the ability to be intentional about demonstrating those behaviors.

What would be on your list? How do you want to influence others’ “self”?

Martha Duesterhoft, PeopleResults