By Dayna Mason
Sometimes we overestimate our impact on others. Sometimes we underestimate it. Sometimes we don’t estimate it at all. Our view of the world is from the perspective of “me” and we often miscalculate how our words and actions affect others. But our influence is far more powerful than we may realize.
Our choices impact others whether we know it or not
In a recent post, my friend, Sean Brown (@seansthoughtz), pondered his drive home where he saw someone walking on the side of the road. He didn’t notice the man at first. Sean wrote, “The guy was doing nothing wrong. The problem was, in his dark clothing, he was invisible.” Sean thought, “What if I was distracted? What if I hit him?”
Sean’s post caused me to think about the walker’s viewpoint from a whole new perspective. The walker hadn’t considered his impact on Sean when he dressed himself that day. If he thought at all about dressing for visibility, it would likely have been so he wouldn’t get hit by a car. But what if he’d thought beyond the impact to only himself and also considered the potential impact to the driver of the car? Maybe, instead of deciding he didn’t need to wear anything special because he’s a careful walker, he would’ve thought about a potentially distracted driver. With this new perspective—a more complete picture of both the danger to himself and the devastation to the driver—the walker may have chosen action to not only save his own life, but to prevent shattering the driver’s life.
When we act based solely on our view of how our actions impact ourselves—an incomplete perspective—we miss opportunities to impact the world the way we truly intend.
Practice “radical consideration” to get what we intend
We have a much greater influence on those around us than we realize. If we take the time to practice something I call, “radical consideration,” we will have a better chance of getting our intended results in life.
The word “radical” means “far-reaching or thorough.” The word “consideration” means “thoughtfulness and sensitivity toward others.” When we practice radical consideration, we carefully consider another’s point of view and our impact on them. This thoughtfulness exposes our blind spots and leads to altruistic actions that make us feel good.
Our influence is more powerful than we know
Two of the scariest things we do are: ask for something, and say “no.”
A series of studies conducted on subways in New York City in 1978 by the famous researcher, Dr. Stanley Milgram, found that most people would rather give up their seat on a train than say “no.” The experimenters were asked to repeatedly board a crowded train, ask someone for their seat and note the number of times their request was honored. Surprisingly, 68% of those asked gave up their seat. But what researchers found even more surprising was that the majority of experimenters not only expected everyone to say “no” they were terrified of asking.
We are afraid of making a request of someone, not realizing that they are equally afraid of saying no to our request.
Our “egocentric bias” causes us to misjudge how different other people’s viewpoints are from our own or ignore their viewpoints completely. We assume everyone thinks and acts like we do, so we don’t even consider what their perspective might actually be.
In the case of the Milgram subway experiment, the participants’ bias caused them to underestimate the power of asking for what they wanted. When we ask someone for something, they may feel pressure to say yes, but research indicates that after they honor our request, they often feel good about their altruistic behavior.
In another more famous Milgram experiment, subjects were asked to administer electric shocks to participants who answered questions incorrectly. Most of the subjects were willing to apply what they believed were lethal shocks to participants simply because they were told to do so. They didn’t want to say “no.” This is an extreme example of the importance of being able to say no when we need to.
Ask, say no, and consider our impact
We can influence our world more intentionally with three simple practices: ask for what we want, say no to what we don’t want, and radically consider the impact of what we say and do.
Our fear of rejection can cause us to avoid asking for what we want, but the truth is that approximately 7 out of 10 times we will get a “yes.”
Saying no is difficult for everyone, and most people expect a “no” to their requests anyway. So, saying no when we need to becomes both exceptional and potentially life-changing.
We underestimate the influence we have over others. If we can courageously ask and bravely say no, and can learn to go beyond our personal viewpoint and radically consider others, we will get more of what we want and need to live a happier and more meaningful life.
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