In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shared his thoughts about how we can influence our environment. He shared this through what he called the Circles of Concern and Influence.

Each one of us has a wide range of issues that take up our time and attention – health, family, career, problems at work, national concerns and so on. All of these create our total Circle of Concern.

Within that circle though is another area – the Circle of Influence. This is only place our personal power, and capacity to succeed, actually exists.

Here – let me show you what I mean.

Take a sheet of paper and draw two circles, one inside the other. Label the outer one the “Circle of Concern” and the inner one the “Circle of Influence”.

The outer circle, the Circle of Concern, represents all those things, issues and events that you have no control over. You may think you do, but you do not (eg another person’s choices, the boss’s decision, the functionality of technology etc). The more attention you give to items that fall within this circle, the less energy you will have, the more frustrated and disappointed you will feel and the more unhappy you will be.

The inner circle, the Circle of Influence, represents all those things, issues and events that you can affect some positive influence upon (whether you choose one job instead of another, how you respond or react to something or someone, your contingency plans etc). It is within this circle that personal power exists, potential evolves and your self-confidence grows exponentially.

Here is a simple yet typical example of how understanding this concept can work for you:

Let’s say something at work is not unfolding as you would like it to. One of your projects is behind schedule and you’re agitated. You spend time complaining to your colleague, John, that Bill has not been returning your calls and that Mark does his work too slowly. Resource deliveries are constantly late and you are worried that the whole situation is going to reflect badly on your reputation. You are clearly within a Circle of Concern.

Now its time to turn on your Circle of Influence. What’s working? What’s not quite right yet? Who can contribute to the project’s success? Is there someone else who can make contact with Bill? How can you support Mark in his job performance? What information, resources or guidance does he need? Can you give those to him or can someone else? Do you see ways in which systems can be more efficient? What information or guidance do you need from your supervisor? How can this situation be improved? What are you learning?

Did you notice something there? Whenever we are in a Circle of Concern mentality, we are “making statements” – Bill never calls, Mark is slow, deliveries are late. And then we stop. Statement….then nothing. Nada. Zip.

Action – To shift into a Circle of Influence, start asking questions, of yourself and others. Who, What, Where, When, How. And then take action on the answers.

By moving from your Circle of Concern to your Circle of Influence using powerful questions, you are able to create positive energy and momentum that changes you and eventually influences others around you.

(Have you drawn the two circles? What do you notice in your own life? Please leave your reply in the comments box)

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