Using and Resisting Influence
In a Nutshell
You can't manage others
if you can't or won't influence them, and they must be influenced properly.
Influencing others is a fundamental managerial activity. Being effective
at influencing others usually doesn't mean using your leverage to push
them around ... but sometimes it does. The best managers actually
use a range of influence tactics. When possible, they reason
with their staff, peers, superiors, etc. to get the cooperation needed.
However, in some circumstances, offering something in exchange
for cooperation works best. Sometimes managers simply have to use
to get what they need, even though it can strain relationships. Effective
managers are also able to resist inappropriate influence attempts from
Testimony this month in
a Disney shareholders' lawsuit shows the conniving influence tactics Disney
CEO Michael Eisner (in the photo above) used to set the stage for the 1996
termination of President Michael Ovitz. Rather than working directly
with Ovitz to influence his performance, Eisner sent memos and had private
conversations with board members to build a coalition that was dissatisfied
with Ovitz and willing to terminate him. Eisner appears to have been
too focused on gaining leverage and not focused enough on constructively
In This Issue
You can't be an effective
manager if you don't influence others. The definition of a manager
in many textbooks is "someone who gets things done through and with others."
That's clearly an oversimplification, but it demonstrates how essential
influencing others is to getting managerial work accomplished.
Having said that, I should
also point out that influencing isn't synonymous with effective management.
As I mentioned in the
LeaderLetter, building power bases shouldn't be a manager's
primary focus, but managers have to have at least some form of power to
be able to do their jobs. The same principle applies to influence
(which is the exercise of power); influencing others doesn't prove that
a manager is effective, but failure to influence others is often the cause
of managerial ineffectiveness.
Choosing the right influence
strategy is also a key to managing effectively. Reasoning with someone
to get them to comply with your wishes has a lot of advantages as an influence
strategy, but there are also circumstances in which it's more appropriate
to use some form of exchange or pressure to get cooperation.
When feasible, the best way to influence others is reason. Managers
who primarily use reason to influence others garner more respect and support
in their organizations. Using reason to influence others simply means
explaining to them why it's important or helpful for them to do what they're
being asked to do and relying on their sense of responsibility and conscientiousness
to comply. It's feasible to use reason when your relationship with
the other party is one of mutual trust and respect, and there's sufficient
time to explain your request. Reason also requires some degree of
common values and priorities between the parties. If you request
that someone do something because it would "save the company money," "make
the client happy," or "reduce employee turnover," that person will only
be motivated to comply with your request to the extent that they care about
Exchange influence strategies include all the ways we get people to do
things by engaging in some sort of trade. Putting an incentive on
a certain goal and offering a bonus for a particular assignment are examples
of exchange strategies. Ingratiation is a more subtle and potentially
manipulative way to use an exchange to influence others. Ingratiation
is giving gifts or performing favors to foster a sense of indebtedness
in another party. Later, when you want that party to do something
for you, that sense of indebtedness can either consciously or unconsciously
influence their decision. The advantage of exchange over reason is
that you don't have to justify your request--as long as the other party
wants what you have to offer they'll comply. Exchange works even
when the party you're trying to influence doesn't have the same values
and priorities that you do. Exchange strategies answer the "What's
in it for me?" question. Of course, the problem is that you have
to give something to the other party, such as some form of reward or incentive.
Furthermore, once you start using incentives to get compliance, people
will expect you to offer them inducements when you try to influence them
in the future. A drawback specific to the ingratiation strategy is
that it can actually cause the opposite of the intended effect if the plan
becomes obvious, because people resent being manipulated.
Pressure influence strategies involve coercion or intimidation. People
comply with these strategies to avoid the negative consequences of not
doing so. Sometimes those negative consequences are clearly stated
(i.e., coercion), other times they're implied (i.e., intimidation).
Some examples of the range of negative consequences that you could use
include quitting and leaving someone (e.g., your boss) in a bind, firing
someone, docking their pay, requiring overtime, or embarrassing them publicly.
The advantage of pressure is that it can be get quick compliance, but that's
about all I can say in defense of pressure. Pressure tends to create
insecurity, resentment, and distrust. It should be used as a last
In summary, reason, exchange,
and pressure are used to influence others in organizations. Whenever
we can use the reason strategy to influence others, we probably should.
Exchange can also be effective, and it's particularly useful when parties
have different values and priorities. Pressure can be effective too,
but it should be practiced with the utmost care.
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Practicing This Management
Again, reason is the best form of influence for most situations.
When presenting the reasons why we want someone to comply with our request
or accept our suggestion, we should consider how our request or suggestion
pertains to the personal values of the person we're trying to influence.
In the ideal situation, the person we're trying to influence has internalized
the organization's values. If so, anything we ask them to do that's
consistent with the organization's values will be something they personally
want to do.
Present alternative reasoning.
When someone is trying to use reason to get us to do something, we should
respond in one of two ways: (1) cooperate because the reasoning is sound,
or (2) tactfully explain why we do not think it would be wise for us to
cooperate. In other words, reason can be resisted with counter-reasoning.
We may need to call attention to the bigger picture or the flaw in the
Defend your rights. Some
people become slaves to their desire to be helpful to others. Being
cooperative and a "team player" is great, but each of us should remember
that we have rights. We shouldn't sacrifice our priorities in order
to help others. We have a right not to help coworkers who are becoming
overly dependent on our help. We have a right to use our free time
to pursue innovative projects. We have a right to work a reasonable
number of hours. Sometimes we have to assertively stand up for our
rights. In pop-psych terms, "people pleasers" need to develop "boundaries."
Firmly refuse. Sometimes
people are a little overzealous in their efforts to use reason to influence
us. They have ideas to "sell" to us. And, like all good salespeople,
those zealots don't give up when we voice our objections---they try to
answer them. As long as we continue to present counter-reasoning,
the debate will continue. Even in relationships that we would like
to keep harmonious, sometimes we need to firmly refuse a request and firmly
refuse to discuss it further.
Offer favors or incentives.
To overtly influence others with exchange, we must clearly explain exactly
what we have to offer and what we want to receive in return. Any
ambiguity in the offer or request could cause the other party to feel cheated
later. It can also help to emphasize that "it's a one time offer"
so that the party we're trying to influence won't always expect us to dangle
a carrot in front of them when we want their help.
Ingratiation. To influence
others using ingratiation, be subtle. Overt attempts at ingratiating
yourself with others often backfire because people resent being manipulated.
You can ingratiate yourself with others by spontaneously doing favors for
them or giving them gifts. Even friendship and compliments can be
offered for the purpose of ingratiation. Colloquial terms for this
are "brown nosing" and "sucking up."
Scrutinize gifts and favors.
We should consider the motives of people who give us gifts and do favors
for us. I'm not suggesting that gifts and favors are always manipulative,
but we should decline gifts from people who may be using them to bias our
Reject manipulative bargaining tactics.
When we notice a party who we're bargaining with is using manipulative
tactics such as rushing us into an agreement or trying to change terms
we've already agreed upon, we should call attention to the manipulation,
explain why we don't want to bargain that way, and suggest a different
approach to bargaining.
Stop bargaining. If we
don't approve of someone's bargaining style, we can refuse to bargain with
him or her. Unless we're willing to walk away from negotiations,
the other party has leverage over us.
To use pressure effectively, we must use it sparingly. Furthermore,
we must stay within organizational policies and the bounds of what's reasonable.
For instance, it's absolutely reasonable to threaten to terminate a staff
member who repeatedly violates safety standards, but unreasonable
to threaten to terminate someone the first time he or she misses a meeting.
Finally, we have to follow through with the consequences if we don't gain
compliance. If we don't deliver the consequences, we'll have less
credibility when using coercion in the future.
Build your power base.
In the famous words of British historian, Lord Acton, "Power corrupts.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Perhaps he exaggerated, but
most of us have been in situations where people who've had a lot of power
over us have treated us in insensitive and selfish ways. By building
our own power base, we reduce the chances of a powerful person pressuring
us. See the LeaderLetter on Building
Your Power Base.
Defend your rights. Each
of us has a right not to be exploited. When someone is intimidating
or coercing us, we should confront him or her, clearly explain what they're
doing that we perceive to be intimidating or coercive, and state that no
one should be treated that way.
Actively resist. The only
way to deal with some people is by fighting back. By reporting the
problem to senior managers or external parties, we may be able to get some
relief from coercion or intimidation. You may also get some ideas
from this web site on "workplace bullying": http://www.bullybusters.org/.
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Orwall, B. (2004). Mousetrap: In court case, a vivid portrayal
of Eisner's boardroom tactics. Wall Street Journal, November
23, CCXLIV(102): A1, A9.
Whetten, D. A., & Cameron,
K. S. (2002). Developing management skills, (5th ed.).
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
About the Photo
AP Photo/Chris Gardner,
e-mailed to me November 23, 2004 from Yahoo! News (http://news.yahoo.com).
About the Newsletter and Subscriptions
LeaderLetter is written
by Dr. Scott Williams, Department of Management, Raj
Soin College of Business, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.
It is a supplement to my MBA 751 - Managing People in Organizations class.
It is intended to reinforce the course concepts and maintain communication
among my former MBA 751 students, but anyone is welcome to subscribe.
In addition, subscribers are welcome to forward this newsletter to anyone
who they believe would have an interest in it. To subscribe,
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E-mail Your Comments
Whether you are one of my
former students or not, I invite you to share any insights or concerns
you have regarding the topic of this newsletter or any other topic relating
to management skills. Please
them to me. Our interactions have been invaluable. I
learn a lot from
LeaderLetter subscribers! Let's
keep the conversation going.
Interview with a turkey.
"You're scheduled to be executed in an hour. What's your story, how did
you get here? Help me and my readers understand what's in your mind right
now. One short hour. Why, you'll baste longer than that afterwards."
"Thanks for reminding me."
He lights a cigarette, gripping his Bic with a taloned foot. "What's my
story? I'll tell you my story, pal, I was born a turkey. You have no idea
what it's like being a turkey in America."
"Tell us, we care, help
"Look, we're not pretty
birds, we don't fly, what do you want from us? We got these gnarly red
sacs hanging from our beaks. You know what our language is? Gobble, gobble.
That's it. Every word in the turkey language consists of some form of gobble-gobble:
gob, obble, ob, ob-ob, obble-gobble--that's the way we talk. We're a threat
to no one. Yet, every Thanksgiving without fail, we are rounded up by the
millions and cannibalized. And Thanksgiving isn't even our holiday." He
goes into a violent coughing fit, choking on the cigarette, his dewlap
quivering. I wait patiently. Finally, he sips from a glass of water, regaining
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah, yeah, peachy freakin'
keen. Do you realize that in a few short hours somebody's gonna make gravy
out of my giblets? Now, that's just sick." He scowls at his cigarette,
snubs it out in a cluttered ashtray. "Geez, nasty habit, smoking. Gonna
kill me one of these days." A brief, humorless smile.
"So you feel that the Thanksgiving
tradition is cruel and unusual?"
"You tell me. Is genocide
by mastication "cruel"? You want "unusual"? Try this: When there is nothing
left but bones, fatty deposits, and gristle, I will be made into soup.
Turkey skeleton soup. Who in their right mind would eat turkey skeleton
soup? What's wrong with fish? Isn't that the other white meat? Big fat
catfish goes good with cranberries. I thought you people were obsessed
with your red meat. Why can't Thanksgiving be a steak day? Or deer meat,
chicken, possum, dog, or a cat. I don't care, but in the name of all that's
holy, please leave us turkeys in peace."
"What do you think of turkey
"I think turkey bowling
stinks. Next question."
"Would you support a Constitutional
amendment that would make the killing of a turkey with the intention of
eating it, a Hate Crime?"
"Well, the problem, you
see, is that I am a turkey, and last time I looked turkeys hadn't been
given the vote. But even if we were U.S. citizens, we'd still just be a
bunch of turkeys, and what's that going to do?"
"Do they give you a final
meal in here?"
"Yeah. Pellets. Same thing
they give us every meal. Tasteless brown pellets that we eat off the ground.
I don't even know what it is."
"It might encourage you
to know that there is a candlelight vigil being held outside right now
in support of your right to life."
"Oh, how sweet. Supper tonight,
they'll be fighting over who gets the leg."
"That's kind of cynical,
don't you think?"
"I meant it in a good way."
"Do you have any final thoughts
you'd like to share with us?"
"Maybe just that I'll be
dead soon and the flesh gnawed from my bones."
"Well, I was thinking of
something more upbeat. Can you tell us, for example, what you're most thankful
for this holiday season?"
"Well, I've got my health.
I'm thankful for that."
"Would you do something
for me? Would you wish my readers Happy Thanksgiving in Turkey language?"
"Sure. Gobble gobble."
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