Encouraging Community Development Using the Arbinger Influence Pyramid

As we continue to work on building our community’s capabilities for self-organizing, I wanted to share one of the most valuable concepts I have come across for dealing with conflict.

Many years ago, I read a wonderful book called The Anatomy of Peace that introduced the Arbinger Influence Pyramid, shown below. The diagram is so powerful that I printed a copy that I could always keep visible and continue to do so to this day. This blog post and the book have a lot more on the pyramid, but I’ll share how I think about this concept and use it.

I like solving problems and have a knack for it. While that has been beneficial in many ways, it has often gotten in the way of working well with others. This concept played a crucial role in helping me understand why.

In any situation where a human is involved in a problem, correcting whatever appears to be the “objective” problem is rarely effective. The reason is that without addressing the underlying factors that led to the problem, it will recur or manifest itself in other ways. Thus, if I want to truly address the problem, I must communicate my understanding of the problem to the humans involved and teach them what to do differently to truly address the problem.

This works well when our collective understanding of the problem is correct, but if that is not the case, we will not make much progress. In those situations, we need to go a level deeper and have the capacity to listen and learn from each other so we can fully understand the problem, the constraints, and everyone’s needs and wants. This will then allow us to come up with the best way to address the problem that accounts for everyone’s needs and minimizes unintended negative consequences.

Of course, this is predicated on the notion that we are willing to listen to and learn from each other. When that is missing or strained, even good-faith efforts are likely to fail.

In those circumstances, we need to go yet another level deeper and focus on building the relationship that will allow us to be open to listening and learning from each other. This requires time, space, a willingness to be vulnerable, the valuing of others as worthy of care and respect, and many other aspects of relationship building. There are no quick fixes when the issue is at this level, so we also need patience and sustained focus. Cultivating the relationship creates the environment for listening and learning that can then allow us to proceed with fully addressing a problem.

What do we do, though, when others aren’t even open to working on the relationship? Gaps here often prompt us to say “the hell with it” and just do whatever we want anyway. I’ve found that this leads to a lot of misery, both for me and for others.

A more useful approach in this situation is to go another level deeper and build relationships with others who have influence with the people that are not open to strengthening the relationship at this time. It’s easy to fall into a cynical kind of “chain of causation” here - A moves B to move C to move D and so on - but that isn’t what I mean.

It’s more that when we take the time to understand who influences others and strive to build relationships with those influencers, we will come to better understand the fuller picture of who we want to build a relationship with, and the perspectives that others have into our character and behaviors that we are blind to. This allows us to adapt our behaviors to more effectively communicate our intent and avoid triggering responses we do not intend. It also provides an indirect way to build influence and increase the likelihood that we can reach a point where all parties are ready to work on the relationship, which can then provide a path towards fully addressing the problem as previously described.

At the heart of it all, though, is that we may not be able to find a way to establish meaningful influence with others on a problem we care about. After all, there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet, and while we may be able to take these actions with a small subset of folks, it’s difficult to have a deep relationship with everyone on the planet! What do we do then?

The base of the pyramid is “getting out of the box”, or as it is described in the Anatomy of Peace, “obtain a heart at peace”. What this means to me is that I have to be willing to accept that reality is as it is, and that I only have control over my own actions and thoughts. It’s that whole “be the change you want to see in the world” and all that, while letting go of the expectation that others should change just because you want them to.

It’s respecting that everyone around you is a person who is just as entitled to their actions and beliefs as you, and that they have the right to make their own choices and we should not only respect that, we should be glad for that. Paradoxically, when we can embrace this mindset, our ability to have influence with others, build relationships, listen and learn from each other, teach and communicate, and correct problems greatly increase!

My hope by sharing this is that it will be useful to others to reference as we work through the challenging work of building the Orca community. One important note - I still have a long ways to go on fully embodying these ideas in my behaviors, so don’t hesitate to point out when I’m not doing that. Just because I can talk about this concept doesn’t mean I can consistently live up to it! :slight_smile:


It has been pointed out by many sages throughout the centuries, holding on to expectations, of people or expectations of our lives, will only bring us suffering. These expectations have variables that are either in our ability to make changes to have a different outcome or they don’t. Either way, in that moment we have to accept the way it exists and adjust either our actions to achieve a desired outcome or we have to change our perception and how we see it. Sometimes this involves listening to a different perspective and understand the courage it might have taken for that person to get out of bed and share their knowledge with the world that day. Other times to incite a personal change we must be the one with courage in our actions or words.

One of the things we can’t deny is our actions and words are dependent our past and most importantly our own interpretations of the past. Without going to far down a philosophical and quantum blackhole; we must acknowledge our past and realize we are an accumulation of our personal experiences with an understanding they don’t define us. We become so attached to our own perception of our experiences that we think is who were are. Yet, all of this in our perceptive experiences only exists in our minds. Carrying with it a consciousness that knows this facade of our perceptions isn’t real because the past, as it were, is gone and all we are left with is mostly vague memories of an identity that we impugn our name and identity on. When we can unlearn our own past and identity we can then make space for others in the moment and acknowledge within ourselves that we have the ability to change our perceptions of who we are and how we see the world. Only then will we be able to see the challenges as opportunities to expand the scope and understanding of who we are and our relationships with those around us.

Although our understanding is limited by our senses, for the most part, we can still consciously and intentionally create these new environments upon which emerges a collective appreciation and acceptance of our own incomplete information and biases. This is where our collective value syncs and resonates outward to attracts those who are interested in developing an understanding of who we and they are in the world.

We are in a transition phase from opacity to transparency as an organization and individuals within that organization. This approach isn’t for everyone but for those, like myself, who do participate will find it much more than a new way to organize around a shared purpose and vision. They will find a new perspective from which to see themselves and those around them. Realizing in the process that there are others to whom we could never have imagined being connected to, let alone building environments with and for the purpose of self-organization and transparency.

Consistently in awe of humans and our ability for introspection and the frameworks in which self-reflection become embedded in the community itself. Always grateful for the opportunities presented here.