There’s a lot to be said about communication and collaboration. The Sphere of Influence represents a rich rainbow of influencing styles that we can flexibly draw on to suit our contexts and our goals—but at the end of the day, it all boils down to two things.

Know yourself, and know who you’re interacting with.

Those familiar with Sun Tzu’s Art of War will recognize this as part of a broader premise. Together, that is, and only together, these two forms of insight are incredibly powerful. So while our conversation partners aren’t our enemies in today’s workplace, we can still leverage self-awareness and social perceptiveness to reach our shared goals.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

“If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”

“If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Know Yourself: What’s Your Unique Value?

We all bring unique value to conversations and team situations. When we take an observer’s stance to examine our own behaviors and impacts, we can understand that value much better in at least two ways.

First, our strengths are the communication skills that we can build on, and which allow us to shine. We can use our awareness of our own strengths to place ourselves strategically in situations and positions where they will play an important role.

Also, our strengths are what we rely on to improve our own shortcomings. In other words, knowing what comes naturally to you is an advantage you can leverage to enhance your own perceived development points. If you feel that being more proactive will benefit you in your role, for instance, you might draw on your existing ability to clarify during interactions. Why not harness that information-seeking competence by asking a proactive person about their communication approach? This will allow you to analyze your insights and better prepare for situations in advance. 

Just as we rely on our strengths, however, understanding our own development points is also advantageous. Our weaknesses are just as much a part of our weapons inventory, if you will, and we bring them along with us to the battlefield. This insight helps us recognize when we should be asking for help or when we need to get creative. At times, we can even adapt our contexts so we don’t need to rely so heavily on our weaknesses. If you’re shy, for one, you might seek out chances to do so in smaller group situations while avoiding potentially overwhelming large teams.

In a nutshell, insight into your own style can help you enhance your impact and draw on those attributes that might not come naturally to others. Through self-awareness, you can identify and strengthen your possible blind spots, enhancing your ability to adapt.

Know Others: Triggers and Impacts

Communication does not occur in a vacuum, and we are influenced by others just as much as we impact them. By recognizing that we bring different things to the table—by knowing each other’s styles—we can learn to complement one another, avoid foreseeable obstacles, and even strengthen each other.

Sun Tzu describes tactical maneuvering in his magnum opus, discussing how armies strategically retreat or cover ground for different outcomes. In the Sphere of Influence, we can apply the same thinking to our communication: both how our behavior triggers reactions from others, and vice versa.

In other words, know what triggers you and pay close attention to how your behavior triggers others, so you can align your approach accordingly.

If you know, for instance, that people with a timid approach generally trigger your assertiveness, it’s good to keep this in mind when you work with colleagues who are relatively shy. Instead of showing ‘too much’ initiative with those who initially take a more submissive approach, you can also adapt your style.

Or, maybe you notice a colleague you are currently working closely with is resisting when you describe things in very close detail? Maybe she switches off or gets restless, as she would rather keep the pace up and focus on results instead. And perhaps, she might have a good point? Either way, this could be a signal to relax with your detail-oriented approach and switch to another communication style that encounters less resistance.

Because 1+1 = 3

To summarize, there are only two types of knowledge that we really need to have when it comes to communication. Knowledge of your own styles and knowledge of others styles, that is, can both help you collaborate better.

Not everybody has insight into their own communication styles, making awareness of your own styles a valuable asset in itself. Appreciating that others respond and react dynamically lets us step back and take a holistic view of our interactions; together, these two types of knowledge complement and build on one another synergistically.

Are you curious to know your own communication strengths and weaknesses? Have you wondered how your preferred approaches are having an impact on those around you? I’d love to chat with you about the Sphere of Influence, just send me an email: nicolien [at]!