Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant, Speaker and Writer

8 interactive tips to understand – and improve – your impact on others


On a plane recently, a very loud man several seats away made me consider how, and indeed whether, we understand our own impact. Did he realise that he was talking about confidential issues in a voice the whole plane could hear?

Managing your impact is something I discuss a lot in one to one development sessions with others. I often, in my people-watching in cafes, linger over a cappuccino to watch unfolding dramas play out around me. What makes it even more fascinating is that the cafes I frequent are often a long way from home – yesterday I was in a cafe in Macau, China, and watched a gentleman shout – actually shout – into his phone for about 10 minutes. But it definitely felt like that wasn’t unusual here, as everyone around me seemed to ignore it!

Whatever your cultural norms, sometimes we’re blind to our own impact, the good, the bad – and the loud. Below I share some ways to help you understand the way that your behaviour comes across to others, and then to start to implement changes to ensure you come across to others – in work or at home – as your ‘best self’.

1. Self-assess

Consider your strengths and weaknesses in relation to others.  How do you relate to others? How do they seem to relate back to you? What response do you usually get in different situations? Are you different in the workplace from the way you are at home? How are you different? What words would you use to describe your communication style? How do you see yourself? Consider the good as well as the bad. Be as detailed as possible. Try to be an observer in your own head for a week whilst you interact with others, and really pay attention to others’ reactions to you.

2. Consider the groups on whom you impact

We all have a variety of ‘stakeholders’ in ourselves, and sometimes we need to behave differently with them. It can be useful when you ask for feedback as in (3) and (4) below, to consider who these different groups are for you. Who are the most important stakeholders? Your family? Your friends? Is it your team? Or your manager? Or your customers? And what would each of those groups be looking for? Do you feel your impact on any one of the groups is particularly worth investing in?

3. Benchmark informally

Benchmarking can be as simple as asking a handful of people you trust for some feedback in an email format. Ideally choose people with whom you have a variety of relationships. Good questions to steer them are, ‘What do I do well?’ and ‘What could I do differently?’. If you’re at work, it can be helpful to remind them of areas where you’ve worked together so they can give specific feedback.

With friends or family, if asking them tese questions seems too hard, a note that says something like ‘I’m collecting some feedback for a self-development project. It would really help me if you’d email me with three words that come to mind when you think about me’ would definitely start you off (and then you can make really fun word clouds with something like Wordle).

4. Benchmark formally

Harder to do at home, but at work this can be great for understanding your impact and building stronger relationships. A 360 questionnaire is a set of questions, ideally behaviourally based, which you send out to a group of ‘stakeholders in you’, and ask for anonymous answers, to which you would get both a qualitative and a quantitative response. You can do this yourself with something like Survey Monkey, although the results wouldn’t be anonymous then, so expect softer (i.e. kinder!) answers than you might get otherwise.

5. Record yourself

Watching or listening to yourself (on your medium of choice!), whilst agonising in many ways, can be incredibly revealing. All your strengths and weaknesses are laid out in front of you, and it’s hard to argue with. It’s a really great way to understand your impact. At work you can either set up some kind of role play situation with a colleague, or ideally (but less likely) video an internal meeting where you play an important role. Watch it back first on your own, and then with a trusted mentor or coach, and ask them for their thoughts and impressions – again, three things you did well and three things you could do differently is a good way to frame this feedback.

If you’re recording your interactions at home, make sure you tell anyone that you’re recording along with you. It can work to just set up your phone to record some day-to-day interaction, but don’t record others without their permission.

6. Map out new approaches

Here you may need some support from a trusted friend, coach, or colleague. There are myriad ways to behave in different situations, and yet sometimes we are really stumped to think of any way in which we could have behaved differently in a particular one. That tends to come down to our natural style, which often dictates the way we behave, particularly if development is new to us.  Search online for development tips if you’re really stuck, or you can buy a handbook of development tips (for example, The Successful Managers’ Handbook).

Another great way to get ideas for approaching situations differently is to find role models and watch what they do. For example, in an impact/influencing situation, choose someone you find impactful or inspiring, or someone who has some of the qualities you would like to develop, and then watch them in their day to day interactions. Be specific and detailed about what it is that they do.  You can of course also watch out for role models in places like TED if you’re looking for impact in presenting, or even on the television (in theory, ‘reality’ TV shows might be better as they are, ahem, more natural situations). Again, really map out the specifics of what the person does. Is it about tone of voice, the language they use, their body language, how they respond and adapt their behaviour? Or something else again?

7. Experiment

Once you have a menu of behavioural options for some of the areas you want to develop, start experimenting. Start small, with one or two areas of focus – if you try and change everything at once you will find it very challenging and are likely to give up quite quickly. If you are able to tell a trusted colleague who sits near you, or interacts with you frequently, then this could really help – they can give you positive and developmental feedback and support you in your efforts, or even just remind you.

To give you an example, I knew I wanted to change some of the negative language I used about myself, because the more pessimistic outlook that it suggested was having a negative impact on others – and it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell myself either. I told two or three of my friends, and had them flag it whenever they noticed.

Keep some notes on the impact of the efforts you are making so you can see what is worth keeping and what still needs work. Remember, you’re experimenting, so sometimes things will feel clunky or be quite challenging. Or a behaviour might not work with a particular person, or with the rest of your personality– you need to find what fits best with your natural style.

8. Ask for further feedback

Once you have put your new behaviours in place, give it a few months for them to settle and for people to notice the impact, and ask for feedback again. You may find you get some spontaneous feedback if something is very different and people respond to it well. Good luck!

Have you ever realised that you weren’t quite making the impact you thought you were?  

How did you discover this? And what did you do?

Or, have you given others feedback to help them understand their impact? How did you do this?

Let me know in the comments below.

7 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • John Yeoman September 2, 2014, 12:24 pm

    Those are great tips, Ellen. I speak as a great inadvertent offender of people’s personal space, with a habit of speaking before my mind is engaged. I once upstaged a professor at a conference – a fatal career move – so I never did get tenure. Now I’ve learned, with difficulty, to button my lip and smile engagingly. A new neighbor once said to my wife ‘what a charming fellow your husband is, so self-effacing’. She snorted, while I buttoned my lip…

  • Quinn Eurich September 2, 2014, 3:40 pm

    Hi Ellen!

    I’d have to say Experimentation is key! People react differently at different times so something you did one day may bomb the next.

    And, the other thing – Mapping Out New Approaches! Wonderful advice! When you find yourself in the same situation a lot and want to change it, mapping out how your going to do it helps a lot. Also helps build your confidence that you can make a beneficial change.

    Thanks for the informative post!


    • Ellen September 3, 2014, 6:17 am

      Thanks Quinn – yes experimenting with different approaches in different situations and with different people is important. And Mapping out New Approaches is also useful because it’s like a practice for the brain – and we can also plan for the ‘what ifs’!

      Appreciate your reading, hope to see you again!

  • Dan Brusca September 26, 2014, 4:36 pm

    Great tips as always, Ellen.
    Dan Brusca recently posted…AbombMy Profile

    • Ellen September 26, 2014, 6:15 pm

      Thanks very much Dan!

  • Ray December 21, 2014, 11:15 am

    Great insights Ellen. “O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.” I wonder though how many of us are ready to approach that gift with the power of accepting that view, or have the Self awarenes skills or motivation to act on it for the better. Happy Christmas.

    • Ellen December 23, 2014, 4:31 am

      Thanks Ray – and you make an excellent point – perhaps there are times when we don’t want to know *exactly* what others think of us! But it’s something to carefully explore a little more. Happy christmas and thanks for the comment!

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