Let’s think about influence. A long time ago I bought a book about manipulation. It lists all techniques to manipulate people into doing something they do not want. The book indicates the ethical dimension of each technique.
And that’s the thing. We sometimes think taking influence and politics is a bad thing. But it isn’t. It’s a very human thing. Today I heard Niro Sinavathan talking about the procedural, cognitive and social aspects of taking influence. And of course each of the insights can be used to manipulate (or to create a cult, like he pointed out).
Influence happens. Whenever someone is trying to achieve something, there will be influence.
There is also a phenomenon called confluence. In geography confluence is the meeting of two water bodies, like two rivers. The deutsche Eck in Koblenz is such a place, where the Mosel and the Rhine meet. It’s a mythical place, with the Bismarck monument adding to its gravitas. Rhine and Mosel form a powerful river with a strong current.
So imagine that we would speak of confluence in organizations, instead of influence. Two opinions flowing together to form a new, better and strong opinion. Could this happen? Could this be a superior kind of influence. Influence is like a small river flowing into a bigger. There is some impact, but not much. But with confluence, two equal rivers practically collide.
For confluence to happen in organizations, all parties need to be equivalent, i.e. they have the same value. Their ideas or responsibilities need not to be identical. But there must be a willingness to coöperate. Now, the moment the two rivers flow together, there is turbulence. In human terms there will be conflict. But in general, there is a strong need for coöperation to have a successful confluence.
And so confluence, coöperation, conflict share the aspect of togetherness. There is no manipulation, and the influence has been sublimated into confluence.
Today we need confluence more than ever. In spite of the apparent and ubiquitous desire for collaboration, there is a zeitgeist of increased separation, segregation, alienation. These are times of distrust. Us versus them. That worries me. Because us versus them requires people to build dams to avoid confluence. Confluence is seen as something unwanted. Why would we need to come together in the first place? We can do it alone. We do not need the others and the others are a threat to our way of being. And so we can talk about “defluence”, it flows away, it flows less. And then manipulation comes up. In times of separation, people will resort to more manipulation to get what they want. And that’s in general something to be cautious about.
Maybe we should use our influence to maximise confluence and minimise defluence? Just a thought.