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Circle of influence

Circle of influence
My name is Jon Hummel, and I am a masters student in the technology and operations management study programme and the faculty of economics and business at the University of Groningen. As a student assistant, I teach courses like mathematics, supply chain operations, and academic skills. I also work at the help desk of the online learning environment. In this video I would like to tell you something about the concept, the circle of influence. As a student assistant you will have to deal with dilemmas, situations, and tasks in a professional manner. However, you won’t to be able to solve all problems you encounter, or at least not immediately.
What influence do you have in a given situation and how do you know if something is out of your control? These questions all revolve around the concept the circle of influence. This concept supposed that you have a personal circle of influence you can adhere to in your profession. When challenges arise during your work as a student assistant, you can use this model to determine what options you have. Let’s take a look at the concept in more detail. The circle of influence model highlights two areas of action for a given situation. The first part of the model is called the circle of concerns. All relevant events, sudden or expected, and concerns are in the circle of concern.
All other events, actions, thoughts, et cetera, are irrelevant and thus outside the circle of concern. Events are irrelevant when you don’t have to pay attention to them or when you are not affected by the events. The second part of the model is called the circle of influence. The second circle is placed inside the circle of concern. The circle of influence encompasses everything inside the circle of concern you have influence on. I hope I have also showed you using the simple model that there are some things you might be concerned about but have no control over. Let’s use a case to illustrate the concepts.
Imagine one of the students you teach complains to you about the course coordinator who is also your supervisor. He doesn’t allow for the students to miss the tutorial you teach since the students could not provide a legitimate reason. A student subsequently asks you if you might be OK with it anyway. Your personal opinion is that the student has sufficient reason and should be allowed to miss the upcoming tutorial. So what should you do? Well, let’s now use the model of circle of influence to analyse the situation. The student confronts you with a problem you can relate to. So this can be placed in your circle of concern. But is it also in your circle of influence?
Well, obviously you can simply say the students can skip tutorial. Though, it is unprofessional to sidestep the coordinator. Would your action really influence the situation? Remember, the coordinator had already stated that the student provides insufficient reason for missing the tutorial, and many procedures regarding attendance and action requirements are handled by the coordinator. This means that, although you can say the student is allowed to miss class, you can’t officially grant that permission, which in turn means the entire situation you were confronted with in the first place is outside your circle of influence. And by being so, it’s best to inform the students about it and backup the decision of the course coordinator.
I hope this example illustrates you can use the circle of influence model in defining the boundaries of your professional behaviour. We have to keep in mind, though, that the circle of influence model is not a tool for drafting a plan of action on the fly. Sometimes problems arise you have to deal with immediately. For instance, a power outage during your tutorial. We will discuss some more concepts related to professional behaviour later on in this week. In each case you can first apply the circle of influence in order to assess whether the situation is actually in your circle of influence or not. The circle of influence model can also give you insight into behaviour and actions of colleagues or students.
Stephen Covey who wrote the best selling, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People stated that highly effective people spent far more energy focusing on the circle of influence then on the circle of concern. Furthermore, Covey analysed several character types in people. He found that proactive people are inclined to extend the circle of influence and gain more control. And on the other hand, reactive people are prone to overlook processes they could influence. And as a result, reduce the circle of influence. In the next step, you will discuss own examples where you can apply the concept of the circle of influence. For instance, in situations in your job or in your study programme or at your secondary education.

As you could see in the previous steps, working as a student at a university has many benefits and can lead to many opportunities. But it also has its limitations.

For instance: you can only influence so much. And you can only pay attention to so much. So what exactly do you have influence on?

In this video, Jon will explain the theory of the circle of influence. The circle of influence can help you in determining what to focus on in your function as a student assistant.

View Jon’s profile on FutureLearn.


  • Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York, NY: Free Press.
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