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When Influence Matters: Transforming Relationships with the Pyramid of Influence

Parallel Recovery for Families - Lisa Smith






Have you ever felt like you were banging your head against the wall trying to get through to your loved one? You have all these insights and solutions bubbling up inside you but they just don't seem to listen. It's frustrating isn't it?


Now imagine having a road map to guide you through those tricky conversations. The Pyramid of Influence developed by the Arbinger Institute offers that trusty compass to help, especially when the dynamics are difficult due to substance use or mental health challenges.


The Power of Staying Low

Before looking at each layer, it's essential to understand the basic principles. The goal is to stay as low on the pyramid as possible. The bottom 5 layers are all about reinforcing what you want to see more of, and the top piece is addressing things that we don't like or want to see at all. Keeping our mindset in a place of helping things go right rather than correcting things that are going wrong is our superpower on the road to influence.





Layer 1: Getting out of the Box - The Ability to be Self Aware

The foundational step in the pyramid is all about turning the spotlight inward. It's requires taking a good, hard look at ourselves, and understanding our own emotional blocks and needs. What boxes are we showing up in?


You know the saying "You can't pour from an empty cup"? Well, it holds true here too. Before we can hope to be heard and influence others, we have to get our own house in order. That means getting real about our own biases, fears and triggers-the stuff that gets us into arguments instead of conversations and connected moments of influence.


This can seem unnecessary when our person is doing things that are dangerous or destructive, but let me ask you...how has placing the focus on them instead of you been working? Entering our interactions with a heart at peace rather than a heart at war is our superpower of influence. It keeps us in a place where we can always see others as people, who matter, separate from their behaviors that are hurtful or scary.


Layer 2: Building Relationships with others who Have Influence

Once our heart is in the right place, we can move up to expand the support with people who can have a positive influence on the situation, and help us to help things go right. Who can help you understand the situation? This emphasizes the need that I believe is essential in lasting healing and recovery in families. YOU NEED HELP TOO!.


Layer 3: Building the Relationship

Think of this as tending to a garden. Relationships need nurturing, care and attention to thrive. But unlike plants, relationships also need trust, respect and open communication to truly blossom. Building relationships requires stealth listening prioritized over talking. Wondering what you could possibly listen for when they are making no good sense?

  • How committed are you to bringing out their best? (Notice I did not say how committed are you to changing their behavior)

  • Do you understand the burdens that they are carrying?

  • Who are the important people in their lives? Are you at peace with them, or is there judgement? Being at peace does not require that you agree with or even like them.

  • Are you empowering the person or empowering the problems?

Layer 4: Listen and Learn

Next up we come to one of the most underrated and misinterpreted skills in the art of influence...listening. I am not talking about nodding along waiting for your turn to respond and insert your thoughts. I'm talking about active, engaged listening-the kind that makes the other person feel seen, heard and understood. You don't have to agree with what someone is saying in order to effectively listen. You just need to listen a layer deeper than the words being spoken.


Truly listening is about tuning into the emotions, the nuances, and the unspoken messages. It's about setting aside your own agenda, and giving your full attention to the person in front of you. Ask yourself...

  • What is this person experiencing right now? What are their worries or fears that may be expressed as defensiveness and anger towards you.

  • How are THEY seeing this situation? What thoughts led them to approach the situation this way?

  • Be curious and understand their perspective-not to collude or fix, but to truly hear and understand.

  • Building the first 4 levels of the pyramid is crucial; take the time needed. It is only when we have done the work on these first levels that we have the right to move to level five.


Level 5: Teach and Communicate

Now that we have laid the groundwork for trust and understanding, we can begin to share insights and ideas in a way that is clear, respectful and non-confrontational. Effective communication is a dance. It requires balance, grace, and willingness to meet the other person where THEY are. It's about expressing your thoughts and feelings authentically, without the need for your perspective to be taken.

  • This level is not about fixing, but about helping them hear their own truth.

  • Can you inspire their learning? Their responses? Their heart at peace?

  • How can you share what you have learned - your story, your personal work?

Level 6: Correct

If correction is necessary, it now becomes helping things go right from an out-of-the-box place, which is actually addressing things that are going wrong. If it is necessary to enter this box, and sometimes it is, it is about addressing issues head on in a way that is constructive and solution focused. From a perspective of your safety - emotional, physical or financial. Correction is about setting boundaries, with clear followthrough, advocating what is best for you. Correction is most effective and understood when the majority of your relationship is spent in the lower levels, developing healthy and meaningful relationships.

  • All judgment and fixing has fallen away.

  • Even hard things can be said out-of-the-box.

  • How can you be firm and invite their heart at peace and their growth?


Remember that change, especially in the dynamics of family relationships is a journey, not a destination. As a guide for families navigating these challenges, I've often found myself in boxes that throw off my communication with my son. As you think about the Pyramid of Influence, keep in mind the power of staying rooted in understanding and compassion.


Embrace the process of self-reflection, building meaningful connections, and honest communication. Every effort you put into nurturing healthier relationship, no matter how small, contributes to positive change.


I hope this motivates you to create spaces where healing and growth can occur. Your journey is valid, your efforts are meaningful, and your presence with your loved one matters. Keep shining your light and remember you are never alone on this journey.

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