The Power of Influence pt. I

Chris Grace: Well, welcome to another edition of the Art of Relationships podcast. I'm Chris Grace,

Tim Muehlhoff: And I'm Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace: Great to be here with you guys. We love being able to come and talk on this podcast, Tim, about all things relationships. As a faculty member here, you've been studying the area of communication for a long time.

Tim Muehlhoff: Boy, for a long time, yeah.

Chris Grace: I've been studying as a social psychologist, and so you and I when we approach these topics of relationships, it's really fun to bring in these expertise in these areas that we have, but it also comes into play with practical ways when we deal with our own relationships, our own marriages, so it's fun to be able to have this podcast with you.

Tim Muehlhoff: My wife would say I'm much better at the theory end of it.

Chris Grace: There you go.

Tim Muehlhoff: Case in point.

Chris Grace: That's right. No doubt. If you have any interest in checking out even more about relationships, we have not only this podcast, but a series of blogs and we have events, all kinds of things at, and so we come here today from this beautiful campus, Biola University. Tim, we've been talking some about ways in which our relationships are impacted, ways in which we can do them better.

One of them, and one topic that comes up, and I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, and then let's dive into this one. It's in the area of influence and impact. The things that have influenced us as people, the people that have impacted us, and then what role does influence and things such as that play in marriages or relationships? How do we understand and hear each other and influence each other? What do you think? Should we take this topic?

Tim Muehlhoff: It sounds great. Influence is hugely important.

Chris Grace: One of the things that happens in each of our lives is, we can point back to different times, different people that have had an impact on us. What does that mean for you when you think about people having an impact, or people influencing you? What comes to mind for you in this?

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, Chris, it's funny. When I turned 40, I found this box. We were moving, and I found a box that had all my journals. We're talking journals of grad school, college, and even a journal from high school.

Chris Grace: Oh, wow.

Tim Muehlhoff: When we talk about influence, I think it's fascinating to say who made the journal? Of all the people that you met, all the teachers, coaches, pastors, who actually made the journal? From a communications standpoint, why did they make the journal? What was it about them that stuck?

I look back, and I'll ask you this question as well, but I look back, it was Coach -. He was my high school football coach. Chris, if he would've told us to climb on the top of the building of our high school and jump, we all would've done it. You do not question Coach -.

He taught me about hard work. When we started my senior year of football, he went to the University of Michigan and got the conditioning program that the Michigan Wolverines use, and incorporated it. We almost quit. It was so hard, but we wanted to please him, and he had a big impact.

Then I would also say, when I was in college I had a pastor of a church that I attended to in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Tom, who had later gone, by the way, to our premarital counseling, Tom and Ruthann. So he really stayed with me.

I had a roommate, an atheist roommate, who really pushed my thinking. He was a great thinker and really caused me to wrestle with issues, and I think that was my beginning of apologetics.

Then I would say a guy named Tim Downs. Tim and his wife, Joy. They showed me what a godly marriage looks like, and I have never forgotten that. So they stay with me. They're imprinted on me in positive influences. We could talk about negative influences, but those are positive. Who would you say makes your list?

Chris Grace: It's funny. It's very similar, Tim. There was a couple of baseball coaches, one positive, one negative. The positive was Coach Tervella who, I only played a couple of years varsity in baseball with him, but he just had a way of encouraging people. I remember, literally it was probably the biggest, turned out to be one of the biggest days and games for me for a number of reasons, not only just in baseball, but even spiritually.

It's a longer story than that, but on that day, I will never forget this coach who walked up to me and just said, "Gracey, you're going to do awesome today. You get out there and do what you can do ...

Tim Muehlhoff: That's huge.

Chris Grace: ... and you're going to do ... Do what you're trained to do." I'll never forget that day, one, because it turned out to be a great day. I got a winning hit. I remember that day, but I remember him, the way he kind of believed in me and expressed those kinds of things on a regular basis, and like you, I wanted to do anything for him.

Tim Muehlhoff: Anything for him, yeah. When I did modeling, I had a photographer who said to me, "Timmy, you can do this. You have got the physique. You can do this." It stayed with me, Chris. It marked me.

Chris Grace: Yeah, and as we deal with reality, though, and not the dream world, let's talk about the way people ... Here's the other one. Thanks for that image. This other coach I remember, he did just the opposite for me, which was I made an error. I think at this time I was probably, I might've been a sophomore in high school. I made an error in the middle of a JV game, and he comes running out and pulls me out in the middle of the game.

In baseball, you don't pull somebody out in the middle of the game, in the middle of an inning. You wait until in between innings. You don't come out and make the change like that. It was devastating. Now, I didn't really ... It had an impact only in I remember thinking, "This is not the way you do things." Even back then, I knew it was not being handled properly.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.

Chris Grace: Those two things, coaches, there was a person who had a huge impact, and I, for the first time, saw what it was like to have a marriage that was Christian, this was before I was married, but I saw and met a couple through a ministry called The Navigators, and I watched this couple. The impact that they had just by modeling what it meant and being able to watch them was pretty powerful.

Like you, there were a couple of people I can pull and call up to mind saying, "That person, I want to do, I want to be like them. I want to manage my life, or walk or treat others, or do things like that."

Tim Muehlhoff: Is it just because I'm sitting here it's awkward to mention me on that list of ... ?

Chris Grace: It was coming up next. There's the third.

Tim Muehlhoff: Thank you so much. From a communications standpoint, Chris, it's really interesting to ask the question, who influences you and why? The why part is huge, because I had coaches, as well, telling me in football "Muehlhoff, you're not very good." I had a wrestling coach ... Interesting, I had a positive wrestling coach and a negative one. The positive one just said, "Muehlhoff, on a good day, you can beat anybody. I don't care who it is."

The other guy always just negative comments and stuff like that, but why from a communications standpoint can a person influence you and other people don't? There's a philosopher named Aristotle who said, "It's your credibility is why I allow your words to have impact." For our listeners, this is going to apply to parenting, friendship, marriage, a business,

Chris Grace: Roommates.

Tim Muehlhoff: Anything. He broke it down into three areas that I thought were really, really interesting. He said, "First, is there goodwill between you and that person? Do you perceive that that person has goodwill?" By that, I think he meant this person isn't out to harm you. You really do believe, even if you disagree with how a person says something, they had your best interest in mind.

So I first judge the fact that even if you're critiquing me, you're doing it for good reasons. He said that was goodwill.

Second, that person had to have virtue, which meant, "I see you living out the very things you're telling me to do. I see you actually doing it and living it out." I think that's really important.

The third one was what he just called intelligence, is what we most attribute Aristotle with, but by intelligence, he meant that "I really did know my facts heading in, sitting down with a person, and I perceive that you really have done your homework, and you really do know". Even if I disagree with you, I might think, "Well, Chris really does know the facts. We just happen to disagree with them."

Those three things, I think, is fascinating: goodwill, virtue and intelligence, is why I allow a person to influence me.

Chris Grace: That's really interesting, and it's been around for a while, that concept, and I think what we end up doing is, I think today sometimes people talk about those. They call them things like being authentic, and it's almost as if we judge another person's influence on us or their likelihood if we trust that what they say and what they do, there's an authenticity between them. They jive.

They might say one thing, but we read it differently, or we see in their world, and we're very good at judging I believe authenticity, right? Somebody says one thing and does something, we tend to believe their actions. I think that's a way in which we do this, as well.

You know, Tim, it's really interesting because there's this study about influence, and I think another characteristic to put onto this would be do we allow the person to speak into and influence us? Are we, for example, able to take in ... That other person, do they feel as if we would accept from them some of these ways of speaking into them, so that area of influence.

It reminds me of the study of preschool kids. They looked at preschool kids, and they wanted to find out about friendships. They realized as they were doing the study that about more than a third of all preschool kids have a member of the opposite sex as what they call their best friend.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, wow.

Chris Grace: So up to a third would say, of preschool kids, that, "Yeah, my best friend is ... " And, again, in 35% of the situations at times it was a member of the opposite sex. By the time these kids reached the age of seven, universally, worldwide, that number dropped to almost zero.

Tim Muehlhoff: What? Wow!

Chris Grace: There were no say opposite sex best friends by the time kids reached the age of seven worldwide, it's almost to zero. They're always now pairing up according to same sex for best friends.

Well, the researchers who did this speculated that the reason had to do a lot with influence. What they said and what they found out were that these boys were not allowing these girls to have an influence and to say who does what, what games do they go play? I want to say this, and so the girls basically by the time they reach first grade were saying they're just fed up. They're like, "We're not getting any of this from you. You're not allowing us to come in and speak. You're not allowing us to share this, so we're just going to go hang out with our own friends."

Isn't that an interesting phenomenon. Who has an impact on us oftentimes is determined by oh, do you allow another person to come in? I think it's a great study.

Tim Muehlhoff: It's the sociology of influence.

Chris Grace: Yep.

Tim Muehlhoff: The groups you hang with determine what is possible and what you just discount right off the top.

Chris Grace: That's exactly right.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, Chris, when I did become a Christian at the age of 13, we started going to a really conservative church. In this church, you only read one specific version of the Bible. That was it. No other kind of version. You just buy-in to it, right?

Chris Grace: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: So I go to college, I'm actually now going to this Christian organization in my spare time on campus, and people aren't reading the version that I was reading. I was confronting them. I was saying, "Hey, that's wrong. You can't read that."

One of the guys came up to me, one of the leaders, and said, "Hey. I think you're a nice guy, but you don't know what you're talking about. Here." He handed me an article about different translations of the Bible, and then he gave me a different version. I didn't trust him at all. I really didn't, until I read the article, and then I thought, "Oh, my goodness. I had never considered any of this," and it made a lot of sense.

Isn't it interesting, Chris, that we can get so locked in to our communities, and in that community you watch a certain news program, you read certain things, and you do not read certain things. So we have to be aware. I think maturity is you become aware of how your community has marked you, even as you start to get exposed to other communities, which I think is good.

Chris Grace: Yeah. Well, Tim, let's think about that for just a minute, and tell me your experience. Because I think what you're describing is what a lot of people would say has happened for them, especially as they went off to college, to university. You are now being able to be exposed to a variety of new ideas. You are now being able to not just be exposed to certain culture, but you're even being able to now create or have an impact on culture, but at times like this, it sounds as if there's still some things that we have to be willing to do, and that is to be willing to admit some things.

First of all, I don't know everything. I am biased in what I've learned, what I've been exposed to, and I haven't seen the world yet. I remember in college for the first time hearing and seeing some ideas that were just foreign, and I remember thinking, "That's not right. This can't be true. This can't be accurate."

In watching that some people actually held onto them, it could be in small things that they did, but it could also be in big ideas, but it seems as if that is an extremely important moment where we're able to begin to recognize our own limitations and understanding and, like you said, you can live in kind of a bubble at times, especially today. There are certain things I don't have to watch only one news station that might cover. I have a choice of hundreds.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and I remember in college, I went to a secular university, and I took a philosophy class. The prof walks up to the whiteboard and he draws a huge question mark, and he said, "Bertrand Russell once said, 'It is wise in almost all matters to every once in a while draw a question mark over long-held beliefs.'"

You know what? I think that's good. It's not that you're going to reject your family upbringing wholesale, but probably as you mature, you're going to look back and say, "But it is good for me to reflect on that just because my parents did it this way, doesn't mean it was the only way." "Just because the community I grew up in in a particular part of the country, a socioeconomic environment, doesn't mean that it always has to be done that way." I think that is going to make you a good roommate, it's going to make you a good spouse, it's even going to make you a good parent.

I hope I'm not so entrenched in my ways that my three boys feel like, "Oh, you can't even talk to Dad about this, because we're not going to do it like we did it in the 70's." I like that, Chris. Appreciate the impact your community had on you, but at the same time, as you get older and maybe have a roommate who comes from a very different background, or a spouse that we just didn't do it that way.

Our reaction can't be, "Well, I'm sorry. That's wrong. This is how it should be done. It always should be done that way." That openness, I think, is a good sign.

Chris Grace: Yeah. Are there any signs, Tim, that would bother you about being influenced or impacted by somebody by being too open? Maybe not holding on to some core things. How do you navigate that? You and I recently spoke at a large secular state institution in the state of California. It was great. We spoke on relationships, and this was both a mix of Christian/non-Christian audiences. The reception we had was awesome.

I remember one student coming up talking about how refreshing finally to hear somebody present the topic of relationships from a Christian perspective, and they just never heard that. At this particular institution, the numbers we heard were astounding. There were, of the 13, 1400 faculty members, they identified or knew of maybe three that were evangelical or Christian.

The opposite can happen in a place where you can be so open, but yet lose. She was grateful, and I think you and I appreciated just knowing that we were able to go in there, talk about something, and have an impact, because we just don't hear that, she said, at an institution like this. She's like, "I just miss hearing that this is a valid way of looking at things." It's really hard to know that balance.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's for sure, and listeners who went to secular schools, man, you got indoctrinated into a certain viewpoint. C.S. Lewis said something I thought was good. He said, "An idea in your mind will die if it's not fed regularly." I like the idea of going to a secular school. It's great to expose yourself to people from different perspectives, but as you're opening to those perspectives, don't stop feeding the ideas of like I believe in God. I believe the Bible is true. I do believe in these conservative values, but at the same time, you can be listening to other perspectives. Just don't stop going back and revisiting the things that you believe and why you believe them.

Chris Grace: If there's listeners out there and they're in a business world, or maybe they're at a state secular university, and they're no longer in a culture that feeds this. What advice would you give them about influence and impact on them? You said keep feeding this. That is, I would imagine you mean keep going back to that which you know is, for you, these core truths: spending time in the Word, spending time reading and praying.

Tim Muehlhoff: And with other people. Remember, I mentioned Tim Downs. Tim was the guy whose marriage had a big impact on me, but he's also a really sharp thinker. He's a very gifted Christian writer. When I went to ... I did a Master's and a PhD at a secular university, I scheduled regular lunchtimes with him.

Here's the great thing about him, Chris. He didn't freak out, and we had to read some pretty wild stuff. I mean, for the first time, I'm reading Nietzsche, the great atheist philosopher. A guy named Michel Foucault is a walk on the wild side, but Tim didn't freak out. He would just sit and say, "Okay, well, what are you learning? What's good about what they said? How's that making you now think about your Christian beliefs?"

Tim was a great sounding board, and when I started to go, you know, astray a little bit, kinda, he was like, "Hey, remember, don't forget this. The reason you believe this is because of this." So having somebody that you can kind of deprogram with a little bit or be a sounding board that doesn't freak out that you're considering and understanding.

Remember, understanding doesn't mean you condone it. I'm just listening to this perspective and understanding it, but, yeah, stay in community's huge. Still going to church, having Tim. So that's what I would say to our listeners who are at secular universities. Man, keep the dialog going both ways, not just that you have to read this book in class, but you're also reading an old C.S. Lewis book, or the Bible, or talking to your pastor, I think, is important.

Chris Grace: You know, in culture today, Tim, there's access to so many different things and social media presents us and gives us an opportunity to influence or limit the channels that come in, and we can only listen to some voices or some podcasts or read some things that we want. I think some of that, it's really hard to determine and judge, okay, what's trustworthy? Where can I get truth from but also hear other perspectives and ideas? And today the change that's going on in so many of the things that we normally would've said, "This is the way to do it. This is truth," are now being fundamentally questioned.

Tim Muehlhoff: Just know, if you're limiting yourself to, well, this is the news program I watch. This is where I go to get my opinion. Be careful of that a little bit, because you really can get locked into one perspective. Chris, I remember one time I was flying to a conference, and the presidential debate was on. I was so bummed because I was going to miss most of it. We're going to get on the plane.

So I'm sitting next to a woman, and they start the debate, and this one candidate opens his mouth. Chris, I promise you, I promise you he got out six words, and she says out loud in front of everybody, "Liar." I just looked at her, like he just ... It was one sentence. That's the negative thing about being so locked in your perspective that I disagree with you even before you open your mouth, because I know you're from a different party or perspective.

To me, I'm concerned when we're so insulated that we've already prejudged everybody else because I know the perspective you're coming from. From a communications standpoint, I think that's dangerous.

Chris Grace: You know, Tim, I also think, and it strikes me as we think through and we opened this conversation today. We talked about this. Who's had an impact on us? Who's had an influence? I bet if we polled a thousand people, we would find that there would be less than one or two percent who would say "Somebody in the media or somebody that is a talking head has influenced or impacted me more than ... "

Instead, I think people will point to that personal relationship, that person that's spoken into their life, that's had the biggest influence and impact. You and I have kind of recently both been reading studies. I know I've heard you talk about this, as well, the study of the faculty members who have had the greatest impact on students, and that they looked at things like it's not so much what the faculty member or this person says, it's really a person listening, more listens for, do they live a life that's authentic? Are they emotionally unguarded when they're talking? Are they able to talk about things that they doubt or they're concerned about or don't have answers to? And are they being genuine in that?

It's funny how the impact of a person has a lot to do with that nonverbal openness and relevancy, but also that they are living what they're saying, and those people have an impact on us.

You listed some of these people, and some of the people in my life, and they lived this. They walked that.

Tim Muehlhoff: They did.

Chris Grace: What they would've said, I would've bought because I felt like they were doing this.

Tim Muehlhoff: Remember that old adage, it's been around forever. I don't care what you think until I know that you care. Boy, that's huge. I remember in college, Chris, I had a professor who probably he'd say a hundred things and I'd disagree with 98. We were just on opposite ends of everything.

You know what he did mid semester? Had us all over for dinner. He was a great cook. We were all sitting around. It wasn't a huge class. I think there were less than 10 of us. We were all sitting around, and he just went around and said, "I want to hear how you're doing. Not what you think about the class, but how are you doing?"

We're eating his food, sitting in his house. My perception of him changed. Why? I still would be 98 things I disagree with out of a hundred, but I knew he cared for me. That got me a little bit of an audience that I would listen to what he has to say. That's a great principle in every relationship I can think of is, do people know that you care? And then you can disagree, but the influence is going to be based on caring.

Chris Grace: Timmy, that takes us right back to this idea of even the preschool kids who by the time they're six or seven have gotten fed up with the other person, the other group that they just don't care. They don't want to hear, and they don't listen to me. Okay, fine. I'm just going to back away from this.

Now I think, Tim, you've introduced the idea of influence within relationships. Do you show not just what you think and what your idea is, but do you care? Do you not only care, but do you care to hear me, understand and listen? In so doing, wow, what an impact other people can have on us when those variables are in there.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: So what do you think? Do you want to talk about that one next?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, I think we can apply this to dating and marriage in a heartbeat.

Chris Grace: I want to talk a little bit about things like influence and impact, how in relationships we accept influence from others, [inaudible 00:25:54] things like that. What do you think?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Let's do it. Sounds great.

Chris Grace: Well, we're out of time, so come check us out again here at the Art of Relationships. We have a lot of things on our website, again, We're just grateful to have you guys join us, and look forward to talking again.



Chris Grace

Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.

Tim Muehlhoff

Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.


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