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Control, Direct Influence, and Indirect Influence

Handling negative emotions

Social circles of influence

In previous articles in this series, we took a look at Dealing With Problems That Can’t Be Fixed, asking When Is It Time to Make a Change?, and when it is that the best solution is Fixing a Problem By Leaving. In today’s article, we’ll look at the kinds of power we have to make changes happen.

When we are able to make changes, it’s important to understand how much impact we can personally have. The most direct situation is control, when we can change something by acting alone. Most of the articles on this site are about situations where we can have some control, like organization, fitness, building new habits, and how we relate to other people. This category includes things that feel out of control, but where the real choices are within us. For instance, I was overweight for many years and didn’t feel in control of that situation. As I learned how to manage my own body better, though, I began to lose weight, and eventually lost more than 60 pounds. Although I wasn’t willing or able to take charge of the situation for a long time, the control still lay entirely with me.

Many of the situations we tend to worry about aren’t directly under our control, however, for instance how our friends and partners treat us, whether or not we receive promotions or contracts, or how much help we get from others. Problems with situations like this can often come up in our minds as should statements, such as “I shouldn’t have to do this without help!” or “I deserved that raise!” or “It’s not fair that it’s raining the weekend we were supposed to go camping!” (A note: “should statements” don’t necessarily contain the word “should”. A should statement is any thought or declaration declaring a need for someone or something else to do or not do something.) Should statements are a common example of a broken idea, a type of thinking that creates unnecessary trouble. To regard situations where we have influence only and not control in a healthy and constructive way, it’s important to come to terms with the possibility that things may not turn out the way we want them to.

Direct influence
Situations where we have influence come in two flavors: direct influence and indirect influence. Direct influence means that we can take specific steps to try to get the thing done. For instance, a person who wants a raise can usually go to his or her boss and request one, and someone who wants to be treated better by another person can confront that person.

Indirect influence
Indirect influence means that we can only take actions that encourage the results we want, but can’t control them or even push for a decision. Some examples of indirect influence are practicing more in order to have a better chance of winning a talent contest or writing letters to a representative to encourage a particular vote.

Social influence diagram by Bruce Dupree, via Anne Adrian.



  1. Anne Adrian  •  Aug 15, 2010 @12:05 pm

    Good explanations on direct and indirect influence and those behaviors that one can control and can’t control.

    I am glad you find the “circles of influences” graphic helpful.

  2. Jay  •  Oct 27, 2011 @9:57 pm

    Quote: “Indirect influence means that we can only take actions that encourage the results we want but can’t control them or even push for a decision.”
    But isn’t subconcious psychological manipulation from one mind to another a form of indirect influence as it is not percieved consciously by the subject yet still gives a degree of real control and influences the subjects decisions?

  3. Luc  •  Oct 28, 2011 @10:09 am

    Thanks for adding to the discussion, Jay. I think the key is in that word “control.” Granted that there are levels of influence that are very strong–for instance, taking the most extreme example, criminals, terrorists, or torturers forcing people to do things they would normally never do by threatening bodily harm or death, but even in those cases the person threatened has the choice of complying or not.

    It’s a less conscious choice when someone is acting on our unrecognized fears or biases, but on some level our own behavior is always still our own. I think a person could reasonably argue that there’s a point at which manipulation is so effective that it’s pretty much the same thing as control, but it seems to me that a person’s own psychological makeup contributes so much to those kinds of situations that the control is illusory. Even hypnotists say that they can’t get people to do things that are against their true inclinations (though I don’t have enough data on hypnosis to know how effective it really is or isn’t, or how true this may be).

  4. Felicia Williams  •  Feb 3, 2016 @1:02 am

    This is an excellent example of indirect and direct influences..This really helps me to gain an better understanding of myself.

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