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Control = bad, influence = good??

Updated: May 27, 2021

One of the reasons why I love coaching so much is that quite often, during client conversations, we stumble upon some very profound truths. They may come out of my mouth or my client's mouth - both equally likely - and we usually tell by the #micdrop moment that follows - as we're both amazed by this incredible insight that seemed to have come out of nowhere.

This one happened a couple of weeks ago. I was speaking with a client about some circumstances in their life that went WAAY beyond just themselves. We're talking societal issues here, which are frustratingly and undeniably real and are having a very real impact on my client's life on a daily basis.

No matter how great we become at taking responsibility for our lives - there remain the things that are just simply bigger than us... A lot of the 'isms' fall into this category: Racism, sexism, consumerism (and hedonism), narcissism.

The question then becomes - how do we respond?? How do we deal???

This is the distinction we stumbled upon:

Trying to control circumstances outside our control is emotionally and physically exhausting. It is also - usually - unsuccessful, which means that the more we try, the more we burn ourselves out. The more anger, hatred and resentment we build up. And resentment - well, you know this - is like drinking poison and hoping the enemy will die.

To be honest, in my many many years of environmental activism, I've seen WAAAY too much of this. A lot of very well meaning people with great intentions and values, standing for 'the right thing' burning themselves out over the years while they are trying to 'lead change'.

I now believe this comes back to - knowingly or unknowingly - trying to 'control'.

If we feel incredibly passionate about something - usually because it is personally affecting us - and we feel that we are 'right' about this (vs. other people being 'wrong') - we are almost by definition also in some way emotionally led. And when we get emotional, and we feel UNCERTAIN about (or threatened by) something, we tend to want to create certainty - and we want to take control.

And anger creates certainty (and migraines).

It also fuels control. And if we're trying to take control in those circumstances, it's not always pretty - we may find ourselves picking arguments, preaching, lecturing, putting others down or trying to manipulate.

And this leads nowhere - other than to our own burnout. And then we feel overwhelmed, defeated, hopeless, depressed - until we get so down that we get angry again - until we burn ourselves out - and the crazy eight just keeps on going and going.

Trying to control things we can't control.

So what do we do? Do we just give up? Stop speaking up? Stop taking a stand?? Not 'call out the perpetrators'????

No. Remember? Control = bad. Influence = good.

What is the difference?

Influence is leadership. It's enrolling others into our vision so much so that they choose to take it on as their own. Influence is unemotional - and strategic. And it's a long term strategy in which we can measure success as progress and momentum - which makes it sustainable and energizing, instead of depressing. Influence is where we can count a lot of small wins over time and see them add up to something much greater than their sum.

It is much easier to be successful in INFLUENCING others than trying to control them. Control leads to resistance. Influence leads to buy-in. It's the difference between the carrot and the stick.

And influence requires rapport. We can't influence anyone while we're judging them. It therefore eliminates polarization (meaning it's the opposite of what we're seeing on social media these days).

So - my question for you: With regard to those "isms" - where are you sitting? Are you trying to control, or are you actively influencing? Are you trying to push others - or are you creating a magnetic pull they can't resist? Do they 'excite' you - or 'fire you up'? And are you having positive, transformational and energizing conversations and deep connection with the people 'on the other side' of your opinion - or do these conversations turn pear-shape and lead to pointless confrontations that you end up walking away from - with your only comfort 'being right' and the support of those who share your opinion?

I'd love to hear about it. And I'd love to hear: How can you shift more of your energy away from 'control' and towards 'influence'???

With love,


PS: In 2018 I created a program for corporate leaders called "Influence for impact" where I taught all elements of strategic influence for change in detail. This program is still available online - and about to be revamped with a ton of new tools and strategies I've picked up since then. Let me know if you'd like to learn more.

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Alia Sabry
Alia Sabry

Thank you Natalie for this post. This loop or crazy 8 is really alive for me right now.. instead of fighting what's happening, why don't we create and display an alternative? I noticed it's quite easy to criticize. Living in societies this size is a massive challenge for everyone involved, sometimes we blame and hate what's happening but we don't know what challenges or pressures "they"'re facing. It could be too complex and given the chance, we might end up where they are or doing what they do. Instead of that, why not work on micro scale and generate alternatives, they might never reach the desired scale, but they might be adopted or act as a "proof of concept" to…

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