I’ve just wrapped up about three years of thinking, researching, and writing about the ways we build relationships to continue to engage in good work. Throughout the process, I’ve learned a lot about the power of relationships, and about my own ability (and sometimes inability) to form them and use them in ways that truly benefit all. Here are four of the big ideas I’ve gathered in this work with colleague and friend, Meghan Everette. I would love to hear how these ideas land for you.
All relationships are transactional. This was initially a tough pill for me to swallow because I do not like, particularly in education, to think that every relationship we form is for a purpose. But transactions don’t mean lack of caring, interest or responsibility. Instead, it simply means that we recognize that interactions are about give and take, and that our work with each other, regardless of the roles we play, is in service to something beyond ourselves.
Influence is something to be strengthened. This also seemed negative as the idea coalesced. When we think of exerting influence on somebody, we often see it as nefarious. Clearly, someone who is influencing someone else has motives that are not in the best interests of others, right? Well, no. What I’ve learned is that influence is something we all must look to build if we hope to assist others in making the decisions that are best for those we serve. Regardless of who said it first, “It takes a village” is certainly a true statement. And no matter who we are in that village, if the knowledge and skills we have will prove beneficial in making changes in ways that will be best for learners and our community-at-large, then we have a responsibility to use that knowledge and those skills. Influencing others simply means helping them see what they might not currently be able to visualize, and helping them get to where they might not currently be able to go.
Influence can be chunked into different buckets. In thinking about our work and our research, Meghan and I saw that the ways we use influence can be broken down into four areas, depending on how much effort is needed to start or sustain a relationship interaction. For instance, a Pull force requires a lot of work to start and sustain the interaction, while a Push really only requires work on the sustaining end. A Shove is very hands-off, while a Nudge requires a lot of pre-work and little to nothing in order to sustain. Each of these Forces of Influence, as we call them, have different characteristics, different optimal times of use, and different strategies to employ. The key here like much in education (and our lives in general) is that no one influence move works in all situations. In other words, we become better at growing relationships by recognizing who needs what, when, and why. Then, it is all about the how of working with others to make change happen.
No person is an island. While relationship interactions can happen one-on-one, there is very little that we do that doesn’t involve a wider circle of people we know, value, and trust. In the world of relationships and influence use, oftentimes, incorporating the skillsets of more than one person is precisely what is needed in order to make lasting change. Think of it like trying to use a lever to move a large rock. Sure, it might move when only one of us applies pressure, but it becomes a lot more likely to move when we have all hands on deck.
This work has made me rethink my strategies for interacting with others, and the steps I take when trying to lead to change, whether it be on my own part, or in partnership with others. Overturning some thinking around relationships and relationship building has helped me welcome the power of influence and the benefit it can provide in reaching positive outcomes for all.
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Fred Ende is the director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam|Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, Professional Development That Sticks, and Forces of Influence, are available from ASCD. Visit his website www.fredende.com. Find him on Twitter @fredende.
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