In the popular BBC series Sherlock (shown on PBS in the U.S.), Sherlock refers to himself as a “high functioning sociopath.” To me this means he doesn’t really give much thought to how others consider him, while at the same time he is capable of being influenced by the other. If your boss is high functioning in this way, you likely experience this mutuality as a positive part of your job (even if your boss is sociopathic). If on the other hand, he (or she) is not so “high functioning,” and does not allow himself to be influenced by others, you will continue to experience frustration and outer resistance to your ideas.
The “brick wall” people experience at work is more often their inability to have any real impact on those above and around them. You may have the idea that saves the day. But if your boss is unwilling to be swayed by you, what possibility does your idea actually have for seeing the light of day?
In a recent article called “Fan Fiction” in the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum refers to Sherlock and Watson’s relationship as central to the TV’s version of the story. She points out that they are many things to each other: “Sherlock and Watson are best friends, certainly. They are also chaste boyfriends, as well as a captain and his first mate. Mostly, though, they’re a god and a mortal, mutually besotted—the most impossible love affair of all.” But what makes even this fictional relationship work is that they are “mutually besotted.” Sherlock is receptive to Watson.
In my work within organizations, difficulty arises when the leaders or employers (deans, bosses, supervisors, directors) are not open to mutual influence. They expect to influence others but lack the skill of mutuality.
Mutual influence is the fundamental foundation, the hallmark, of a healthy, dynamic relationship and each conversation within our relationships. Marriages, friendships, work relationships are all dependent upon this quality. In its highest expression, mutual influence depends on both participants being ethical, truthful, and open. A willingness to be influenced is dependent upon a vulnerability and curiosity toward the other, a genuine motivation to understand the other and then be influenced by what the other has to say—give and take, a back and forth.
John Gottman, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, states that a primary quality that goes into transformative conversations and is the cornerstone for any happy marriage is mutual influence. Gottman refers to it as “allowing for influence.”
Even the 5,000-year-old philosophy of the I Ching highlights the fact that our ability to be influenced by the other is critical for flourishing relationships. One who successfully practices the principles put out by the I Ching is referred to as a “Superior Person.” In hexagram #31, titled “Mutual Influence,” the accompanying image is of a lake on a mountain: “The superior person opens his heart and mind and encourages people to approach him by his readiness to receive them.”
Finally, I look toward nature to remind us how to be better human beings. In the natural world there is a constant flow and exchange going on, all the time. There is reciprocity that not only makes life possible but also keeps things interesting. Life is not fair, or even, in my view, balanced, but for life to remain and relationships to work there has to be an underlying reciprocity and receptivity.
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“From this perspective, each ‘thing,’ whether particle or starfish derives its relative stability through the influence of background and substructure. But this influence is not a one-way affair – each particular thing in tis turn may affect and influence its respective background and substructure. This qualitative change may flow in both directions, with particles subtly affecting their fields (as well as the reverse) or starfish subtly affecting their ecosystems (as well as the reverse). More broadly considered, the notion of reciprocal relation allows for nested, mutual influence even between macroscopic processes and those at the atomic level, indicating the complexity of the pathways through which qualitative infinity of nature may manifest.” David Bohm, The Essential David Bohm (Lee Nichol)