Influence Pyramid: How to Build Credibility

The 13th-century Persian poet and mystic Rumi once said, "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." I find this saying both simple and complicated. It is simple in the sense that if we are to cultivate meaningful and compassionate relationships, we inevitably need to be able to see beyond who is wrong and who is right. We need to connect with each other's needs and feelings, but we fail to do this at times- and that is what makes the idea of outdoing right and wrong complicated in our relationships. Does this mean there is no way out? Let's explore.

The Challenge:

Riya [name changed] got appointed to an organization to head the sales and marketing team. She efficiently navigated her day-to-day tasks, as do most of her colleagues.

Riya has one colleague in the team Bidhi [name changed], who is good at her work, but she rushes to complete most of her tasks only toward the end of the week. Even though she meets her deadlines, her work pattern sometimes creates bottlenecks for Riya and other team members.

Riya tries communicating with Bidhi about her concerns. She suggests ways that Bidhi could use to pace her work better. Riya asks Bidhi to correct her actions for the team to fare better, but Bidhi gets defensive and says, "The previous supervisor never had a problem!"

The Solution:

The conversation between Riya and Bidhi becomes difficult despite good intentions. Eventually, both Riya and Bidhi sense that it would be tough to work together. Riya thought Bidhi was self-centered, and Bidhi thought Riya only focused on appearing all-knowing because she was the supervisor. As days passed, Bidhi continued with her old patterns. When her colleagues intervened, she argued that they were trying to impress the new supervisor.

Riya realized that her effort to ensure efficiency in the team had backfired. It then occurred to her that she did not approach Bidhi from an Impact-focused Mindset, and perhaps it contributed more to the problem. Riya recalled learning about The Influence Pyramid from one of her mentors in the previous organization. She thought now may be the right time to apply it.

The Influence Pyramid developed by the Arbinger Institute shows us different steps to apply an Impact-focused Mindset. The pyramid comprises two sections- dealing with things going wrong and helping things go right (The Arbinger Institute, 2015). The pyramid consists of various courses of action in these two sections as follows:

Correct. It is the only step the section dealing with things going wrong comprises. It is what Riya tried to do with Bidhi. There is nothing wrong with correcting. Sometimes it is enough to deal with minor issues that do not require much effort, but it may backfire if people feel threatened by correction, which Bidhi may have experienced. She had a pattern of working that she was comfortable with. Nobody else had a problem with it earlier until Riya asked her to change her ways.

Teach and communicate. Riya realized she wanted to contribute to helping things go right instead, which is what the pyramid invites us to do if the correction does not suffice. Riya knew she had to help Bidhi understand how the team would benefit if everyone considered the impact of their work on others. Hence, Riya approached her to discuss what she envisions for the team, for which she would need cooperation from Bidhi.

Listen and learn. Riya took a step forward from correcting to teaching and communicating with Bidhi, but the team could still sense some defensiveness from Bidhi. Riya then decided to hold space for Bidhi to listen to her and learn about her role, challenges, and what she enjoys at work. Bidhi did not cave in but eventually sensed that Riya cared for her and the team. She shared with Riya how she likes to work autonomously and under pressure because it helps her contribute well. But, Bidhi also acknowledges that her preference might have created bottlenecks for others. Bidhi eventually decided to prioritize tasks that require input from the others toward the beginning of the week and only then work on things she can do individually.

Build the relationship. Riya knew she was responsible for helping Bidhi grow and learn. So, she had to continually make efforts toward building a good relationship with Bidhi. Riya checked in with Bidhi to know what she enjoys working on and where she needs support. Riya also shared her experiences with Bidhi to form a humanizing connection with her. She would sense that Bidhi sometimes thought all those efforts were just for better team results, but Riya did not let that get in her way. Riya knew that the team needed cohesion to grow together; that would not be possible until even one member felt left out. Hence, despite occasional resistance from Bidhi, she carried on.

Build relationships with others who have influence. After learning about Bidhi's role, challenges, and what gave her meaning, Riya connected with Bidhi's immediate colleagues. She tried to understand how Bidhi's actions impacted them and vice versa. It helped Riya identify how Bidhi and her close colleagues could support each other. Riya offered help to bridge any gaps that existed.

Get out of the box/Obtain a heart at peace. Everything Riya tried- from correcting to teaching and communicating to listening and learning to building a relationship with Bidhi to building relationships with people who influence Bidhi are behaviors. They could come from either a Self-Focused or a People-Inclusive/Impact-focused Mindset. Hence, the base of the pyramid is about mindset-check. Even if any of the behaviors work, it is still crucial that we work on developing a People-Inclusive/Impact-focused Mindset.


Riya's effort toward applying a People-Inclusive/Impact-focused Mindset and Bidhi's eventual support helped them work well together. It eventually led to a culture of understanding and cooperation in the team. They faced challenges when the members got self-focused but made efforts to work their way out. Riya and Bidhi helped their colleagues learn and live the different steps of 'The Influence Pyramid' to enable an Impact-focused team.

'The Influence Pyramid' isn't just a hack or a tool to help fix our mindset. It's a logical sequence of actions we can resort to for creating team cohesion. There are some lessons to 'The Influence Pyramid' that can help us further:

  • We need to make more efforts to "help things go right" (i.e., at levels of the pyramid below correction) rather than "dealing with things going wrong."
  • If one level of the pyramid isn't helping solve our problem, the level below can help us. For example, if correcting is not working, we might want to teach and communicate. If that isn't working out, we perhaps need to listen and learn.
  • The effort at each level of the pyramid will only be effective if we are effective at the base, i.e., developing an Impact-focused Mindset.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Am I dealing with things that are going wrong or am I working toward helping things go right?
  2. Am I trying to influence others from a Jackal or Giraffe mindset?
  3. Which step of The Influence Pyramid can help me at the moment?


The Arbinger Institute. (2015). The anatomy of peace: Resolving the heart of conflict (2nd ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.


Aprajita Jha

Aprajita Jha is Linchpin at My Emotions Matter and can be reached at [email protected].