What your employees should know about the many faces of influence
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What your employees should know about the many faces of influence

Influence — the way people go about obtaining the cooperation of others — is more critical than ever in today’s fragmented workplace. If you want to educate your people about the effective uses of influence, it helps to understand what the different types of influence are.

A seminal study from academics at SUNY-Albany described nine main types of influence that people exert in organizations — with their bosses, peers, or organizational subordinates. Let’s look at them and their uses.

9 main types

  1. Pressure. This occurs when the would-be influencer uses demands, or even intimidation, to obtain the target’s compliance.
  2. Legitimation. Here, the influencer bases a request for compliance on existing policy or tradition.
  3. Exchange. This is the influence tactic otherwise known as quid pro quo. “If you do X, then I’ll do Y.”
  4. Coalition. The influencer enlists the aid of others to persuade the target to comply.
  5. Ingratiation. The influencer tries to “butter up” the target before requesting compliance.
  6. Rational persuasion. Logical arguments are deployed to persuade the target that compliance makes sense.
  7. Inspirational appeal. The target’s values and ideals are appealed to, suggesting that these would be served by compliance.
  8. Consultation. The influencer seeks the target’s participation in the implementation of the former’s request.
  9. Personal appeal. The influencer appeals to the target’s sense of loyalty or friendship to support compliance.

Most frequent, most effective

The researchers used anonymous questionnaires to ask employees, peers and bosses of 128 corporate managers which kinds of influences they had observed these managers using and how frequently. The responders were also asked which influences they themselves had used in interactions at work, and how frequently. Some 526 employees and 543 peers of these managers — along with the 128 bosses, one per manager — took part. These 1000+ people were also asked to rate the effectiveness of each type of influence they had observed.

The researchers found that overall, the most effective types of influence were rational persuasion, inspirational appeal and consultation. Least effective were pressure, coalition and legitimating.

Other key findings included these:

  • Ingratiation and exchange were somewhat effective for influencing subordinates and peers, but not superiors
  • Inspirational appeal, ingratiation and pressure were used most frequently with subordinates
  • Personal appeal, exchange, and legitimating were used most frequently with peers
  • Coalitions were used most often with peers and superiors, and
  • Rational persuasion was used most often with superiors

Promoting collaboration

Obviously, some of these influences are more desirable than others, and they all have to be put in context. In most organizations, for instance, pressuring people to comply isn’t going to be something trainers want to encourage employees to do. And not all organizations will necessarily have room or time for extensive consultation to be used as an influence tactic.

But overall, the better employees understand these different faces of influence, and practice certain of them, the better they’ll be able to interact with co-workers so as to promote cooperation and harmonious collaboration.

This blog entry is based on the following scholarly article: Yukl, G. and Tracey, J.B. (1992). Consequences of Influence Tactics Used With Subordinates, Peers, and the Boss. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(4) 525-535.




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