3.4. Understanding Methods of Influence
Power is the ability to get things done, and influence is using power to get things done. We've all felt influence at work in our jobs, whether it was a department manager trying to persuade us to move her project to the top of the priority list or one of your staffers trying to get a key assignment. Influence is used all the time and is really how things get done. In this section, we're going to look at three key methods of influencing people and we'll discuss which ones work best and which are best to avoid. As with power, these methods can be used appropriately to generate results or they can be overused or abused. Understanding methods of influence helps you spot them when they're being used on you and also helps you use them effectively to get better results.
The least desirable method of influencing is to threaten someone. You can threaten someone directly or indirectly. You can say, "Your raise depends upon how well you do at the client site," or you can say, "I'm expecting a lot from you tomorrow." While threats as a method of influence may sound very negative and manipulative, the fact is there is a certain amount of threat built into every corporate structure. We all know on a very basic level that if we don't perform, if we don't do as expected that we aren't likely to get a raise, bonus, or promotion, or worse, that we can lose our jobs. That's an implicit threat and we all pretty much accept that. However, when used to manipulate us into doing something we don't want to do, threats are perceived as negative. In fact, that's true about any use of power. When we are forced to do something against our will or against our own self-interest, we typically view power negatively. Conversely, when we do something aligned with our desires or that furthers our own self-interests, we view power in a positive light.
Here's the downside of using threats: they will force compliance but not commitment. Think about it. If you have the power to force someone to do something, they will likely comply. However, they are not likely to be committed to the action or decision because they were forced into it. Compliance may be all you need in a particular situation. If the report needs to be completed by noon, you don't need a commitment, you need the report completed by noon (compliance). If you need all e-mail users to log off by midnight on Friday so you can upgrade the server, you don't need commitment, you need compliance. The threat in that case is that if you don't log off, we're taking the server down and anything you were working on might be lost. The threat, in this case, is rather benign. Notice that you can present this information in one of two ways. You can send out an e-mail that says, "The e-mail server is going down at midnight on Friday. Log off before then or lose anything you're working on. E-mail will be back up by Saturday 10:00 A. M." That e-mail will force compliance, but is perhaps not the best presentation. To make the threat more palatable, you could instead send this e-mail: "In order to provide faster e-mail response and more storage space for your e-mail, we're upgrading the server this weekend. Please log off e-mail prior to Friday at midnight so you don't lose any important work. We anticipate bringing the new server back up and restoring e-mail service to you no later than Saturday 10:00 A. M. If you have any questions, please contact IT at extension 1234. Thanks for your cooperation. Signed, your friendly IT group." Both e-mails threaten to cut off service at midnight, but one will be seen as curt and the other seen as a positive, friendly message. Threats need not be heavy handed and as you can see, they're sometimes quite appropriate.
You typically need commitment when you need to get something done over a longer period of time or you need to gain agreement before proceeding. We'll discuss gaining commitment in a moment. Making threats will almost never result in commitment, so generally speaking, threats are not your best option most of the time. They generate short-term compliance. They can be delivered in a positive manner that generates willing rather than resentful compliance. As you can see from the previous example, a threat is sometimes exactly what's needed. It wouldn't be helpful to try to get commitment from people to log off their e-mail, all you need is compliance and the threat (presented in a polite and positive manner) gets the best result. That should be your goal whenever using threats as your method of influenceto generate compliance without generating resentment.
3.4.2. Exchange or Barter
There are many commonly used expressions for the normal (and desirable) exchange or barter that operates in all companies. Some of these expressions are, "Help me out today, will you?" "You owe me big time!" "What's it going to cost me?" "How long am I going to have to pay for this one?" or "I'll put in a good word for you." These kinds of expressions demonstrate the normal exchange between individuals in a company. This type of exchange is a form of influence. We use whatever power we haveinformation, resources, positionand attempt to exchange it for what we need. Again, there's nothing sinister in this unless it's used for purely selfish power-building reasons. Otherwise, it's how business gets done; it's the art of the deal. We negotiate every day for what we need and this exchange system works pretty well. The informal balance of trade in organizations helps people extend and call in favors. If you owe someone a favor, you can be influenced to take action on that person's behalf. That wipes out the debt and the person to whom you owed a favor was able to influence your behavior for that interaction. Similarly, we can use exchange or barter for future benefitI'll do this today in exchange for you doing something for me later on. It's a good system and is actually the primary influence system at work in most companies today.
Here's the downside to using exchange as a method of influence: you have to have something the other person needs. Just like any exchange or barter system, what you have to offer and what the other person needs must match up in order to make an exchange. In an organization, you have to figure out how your "inventory" matches up with others' needs in order to make an effective exchange to get what you need. In addition, it's helpful to know what you have that others need so you can make an exchange. The exchange can be immediate or it can be banked for future use. If you can't discern what the other person needs or what you have that might be of value in an exchange, you'll have difficulty using exchange effectively in your organization. Since this is a very common (and typically fair and aboveboard) method of wielding power and influence, it's worth understanding it consciously. Most of us have worked, with varying degrees of success, using the exchange and barter methods, but we perhaps have never taken time to examine the inner workings. In order to use this method successfully, you'll need to figure out who you need to influence and the balance of trade in that relationship.
It's also worth noting that sometimes the exchange can be simple human interaction. When you are consistently nice to the receptionist as you come in each day and you later need a favor, he or she may be more inclined to help you out than if you walked by and nodded every day. Do you know the receptionist's name? Do you talk with him or her on occasion? It's not always what we can give someone on a tangible level that creates the exchange, but what we give through human interaction. And let's face it, techies are sometimes so engrossed in their current technological challenge that they fail to notice the people around them. Paying attention to your personal interactions can generate this exchange "currency" as well.
3.4.3. Appeals to Values, Emotions, or Reason
If the U.S. Presidential election of 2004 is any indication, appealing to values and emotions works. People across the political spectrum were bombarded with appeals to their values and emotions. While in politics these appeals often are or appear to be disingenuous, in corporate politics they can be another viable way of wielding influence. Think about this. If your boss comes to you and says, "You agreed to complete this code in time for the upcoming release and I know you always keep your word," your manager is appealing to your valuesthat of keeping your word, of being honest. Your boss might also be appealing to your emotionsyour desire to avoid feeling bad for not keeping your word, your desire to feel good about yourself (ego). Let's look at another example. Your company is in a competitive bid process and you feel you're the best person to develop the proposal. You remind your boss that the last time he or she let someone else complete the proposal it was poorly done, late, and lost the contract for the company. This is an appeal to emotions and perhaps to reason. The emotional part is your boss wanting to avoid another embarrassing situation (which he or she will almost certainly have to explain to someone up the ladder) and the reasoning part is that it is reasonable to assign someone more capable to a key project if the previous person failed or underperformed. Again, these can be used in very manipulative ways, but they can be used for positive reasons as well. When charities raise money, they have no direct power over you or your checkbook. They wield the only power they havean appeal to shared values, an appeal to emotion or an appeal to reason. These are very effective, legitimate tools and they're used with good results all the time. When done in an open, honest manner, you have a choice to respond to these appeals or not. Therefore, this method of influence is less likely to be perceived as manipulative, though there's still ample opportunity for this method to be used in an underhanded manner. When someone appeals to your values, emotions or reason when they themselves do not believe what they're saying, it is often manipulative (or will be perceived as such). Appealing to values and emotions can certainly inspire commitment and get you to go "above and beyond" to generate results beyond mere compliance.
Appealing to reason is another way to inspire commitment. As mentioned earlier, using threats gets compliance but not commitment. Using reason gets commitment (and usually also compliance) and when commitment is critical (as it is in most IT projects), appealing to reason is a good tool to have at your disposal. The other attractive quality to appealing to reason is that it typically is all aboveboard. It's harder to manipulate (or be manipulated) if you're appealing to reason because the other party can think through the logic and agree or not. This is exactly why appealing to reason fosters commitmentthe other party has thought about it and agreed with your perspective. Now your cause is their cause, in a sense, and this can generate a longer-term commitment than other types of influence might.
The downside examples of appealing to values, emotions, or reason are the ones that people tend to remember and fixate on. Most charismatic leaders appeal to values and emotions and can manipulate people quite effectively, especially if the leader does not actually share those values but simply uses them to get you do as they wish. I'm sure we can all think of people who have used this type of influence for personal gain, but that doesn't make the method inherently bad. Another downside of this type of influence is that you have to know what someone's values are before you can appeal to them. You also have to know what emotions are likely to get that person fired up. If you've ever been in a team meeting where you left feeling fired up and ready to take on the next challenge, you've been influenced via an appeal to values, emotions or reason. Were you manipulated? Not unless the reason for someone getting your team all fired up was malicious, self-serving, unethical, or illegal. Is it unethical or manipulative for an NFL coach to give an inspiring speech in the locker room before a big game? No, but he's certainly appealing to values and emotion to get the job done. Appropriate appeals to values, emotions and/or reason can help foster a strong, cohesive team.