What power tactics do people use to translate power bases into specific action? That is, what options do individuals have for influencing their bosses, coworkers, or employees? And are some of these options, more effective than others? In this article, we outline popular tactical options and the conditions under which one may be more effective than another.
Some tactics are usually more effective than others. Specific evidence indicates that rational persuasion, inspirational appeals, and consultation tend to be the most effective. On the other hand pressure tends to frequently backfire and is typically the least effective of few tactics.
You can also increase your chance of success by using more than one type of tactic at the same time or sequentially, as long as your choices are compatible. For instance, using both ingratiation and legitimacy can lessen the negative reactions that might come from the appearance of being “dictated to” by the boss.
But some influence tactics work better depending on the direction of influence. Studies have found that rational persuasion is the only tactic that is effective across organizational levels. Inspirational appeals works best as a downward influencing tactic with subordinates. When pressure works, it is almost always to achieve downward influence. And the use of personal appeals and coalition are most effective with lateral influence attempts.
In addition to the direction of influence, a number of other factors have found to affect which tactics work best. These include the sequencing of tactics, a person’s skill in using the tactic, a person’s relative power, the type of request and how the request is perceived, the culture of the organization, and country-specific cultural factors.
Preferred Power Tactics by Influence direction:
You are more likely to be effective if you begin with “softer” tactics that rely on personal power such as personal and inspirational appeal, rational persuasion, and consultation. If these fail, you can move to “harder” tactics which emphasize formal power and involve greater costs and risks such as exchange, coalitions, and pressure. Interestingly, it has been found that using a single soft tactic is more effective than a single hard tactic; and that combining two soft tactics, or a soft tactic and rational persuasion, is more effective than any single tactic or a combination of hard tactics.
Studies confirm a tactic is more likely to be successful if the target perceives it to be a socially acceptable form of influence behavior, if the target has sufficient attitudes about desirability if the request is used in a skillful way, if it is used for a request that is legitimate and if it is consistent with the target person’s values and needs.
Cultures within organization differ markedly for example, some are warm relaxed and supportive; others are formal and conservative. The organizational culture in which a person works, therefore will have a bearing on defining which tactics are considered appropriate. Some cultures encourage the use of participation and consultation, some encourage reasons and still others rely on pressure. So, the organization itself will influence which subset of power tactics is viewed as acceptable for use.
Finally, evidence indicates that people in different countries tend to prefer different power tactics. For instance, a study comparing managers in the United States and China found that the Americans perceived reasons to be most effective, whereas Chinese managers preferred tend to be consistent with the values in these two countries. Reason is consistent with the preference of Americans for direct confrontation and the use of rational persuasion to influence others and resolve differences. Similarly, coalition tactics are consistent with the Chinese preference for using indirect approaches for difficult or controversial requests.