Putting upward influence strategies in context

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  • Putting upward influence strategiesin context


    Department of Management, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY, U.S.A.


    School of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, U.S.A.



    Purdue University, Krannert Graduate School of Management, W. Lafayette, IN, U.S.A.

    Summary Researchers have noted that upward influence tactics are often used in varying patternsand combinations (e.g. Yukl and Falbe, 1990). This study investigated whether influencestrategies representing hard, soft, or rational approaches to influence behavior wouldemerge in relation to upward influence tactics of assertiveness, rationality, coalition,upward appeal, ingratiation, and exchange. Hypotheses were oered concerning therelations of selected demographic, individual dierence, relational, and opportunityfactors to these strategies. The 225 participants were full-time employees of a nationalnon-profit organization. Second-order factor analysis provided some support for thedimensionalization of upward influence tactics as representing hard, soft, and rationalstrategies. Each strategy was related to a unique set of predictors. The results suggest ahigher level of complexity for influence strategies than previously expected. Theimplications of this study, as well as fruitful areas for future research, are discussed.*c 1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


    Interpersonal influence, in its many forms, is ubiquitous in organizational life. As researchershave continued to pursue an understanding of how organizations function, the topic of influencehas received an ever-increasing amount of scientific and popular press attention (Cohen andBradford, 1990; Pfeer, 1992). In light of the recognition that organizational members mustoften work through others to accomplish their tasks, researchers have been trying to fill in manyof the gaps in our current knowledge regarding how, when, and why influence is used inorganizations. Specifically, in what ways do individuals at work influence their colleagues,

    We would like to thank Bruce Barry, Robert Bontempo, Michael Buckley, Carolyn Nicholson, and three anonymousreviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Addressee for correspondence: Steven M. Farmer,Department of Management, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY, U.S.A., 13699-5790.

    CCC 08943796/97/01001726 Received 14 October 1994# 1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Accepted 30 October 1995


  • subordinates, and superiors to achieve valued outcomes or obtain important resources (Kipnis,1976; Tedeschi, Schlenker and Bonoma, 1973)?The focus of this study is on upward influenceinfluence that is directed by subordinates

    toward their immediate superiors. According to Porter, Allen and Angle (1981), upwardinfluence has received less conceptual and empirical attention across the various behavioralliteratures than have downward influence (e.g. management and leadership) and lateral influence(e.g. group dynamics and socialization). Since their observation, however, interest in upwardinfluence in organizations has increased (e.g. Ansari and Kapoor, 1987; Deluga, 1991; Duttonand Ashford, 1993).Part of the reason for this increased interest mirrors shifts in power distributions in many

    organizations. As organizations have downsized and flattened to meet the demands of com-petitive environments, employees in some firms have been empowered, with more decision-making authority vested in lower level employees (Cotton, 1993). Indeed, employee involvementin decision-making is one criterion for the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award. Forlower-level employees, involvement in decision-making almost certainly involves more upwardrequests for information, for resources, or even for more authority. Increasingly, competitivepressures are resulting in increases in employee empowerment to meet the need for moreinnovation as well as more productivity (Gustavsen, 1986). In the future, it seem likely that lowerlevel employees will have more reasons and more opportunities to influence their superiors.Thus, a better understanding of upward influence will ultimately benefit many organizations.Researchers have begun to specify the components of the complex array of influence forms

    and antecedent forces that aect a persons decision to influence another (e.g. Ansari andKapoor, 1987; Deluga, 1991; Schriesheim and Hinkin, 1990). This study represents an additionto this eort and is designed to extend the upward influence literature in two ways. First, it hasbeen noted that tactics will often be used in combination (Falbe and Yukl, 1992; Yukl and Falbe,1990). Yet until recently, most influence research has focused on a tactic-by-tactic examinationof influence use. However, researchers in several literatures have suggested that certain meta-categories of influence tactics may reflect their strategic use by individuals (e.g. Berger, 1985;Kipnis, 1984; Kipnis and Schmidt, 1988, 1985, 1983; Miller, 1983; Miller, Boster, Rolo andSeibold, 1987).To date, the influence tactic typology oered by Kipnis, Schmidt and Wilkinson (1980) has

    received the most attention, and has been the only typology that has prompted a serious attemptto develop and validate scales (Schriesheim and Hinkin, 1990; Yukl and Falbe, 1990). It has beenproposed that groupings of influence tactics in this typology may reflect several overarching,higher-order strategies (Barry and Shapiro, 1992; Kipnis, 1984; Kipnis and Schmidt, 1985;Deluga, 1991). These meta-categories of influence tactics have been characterized as reflectinghard strategies, soft strategies, and rational strategies. There has been no direct empiricalevidence to date concerning this categorization, although it is beginning to be commonly used inthe management literature (e.g. Barry and Shapiro, 1992; Deluga, 1991). Therefore, the firstresearch question asked in this study is Can individuals use of influence tactics be dimensional-ized as meta-categories reflecting hard, soft, and rational strategies?Second, independently dimensionalized influence tactics do appear to be used in

    interdependent ways (Falbe and Yukl, 1992; Pfeer, 1992; Yukl and Falbe, 1990; Yukl, Falbeand Youn, 1993), suggesting some sort of strategic use of influence behavior. However, pastresearch has tended to investigate small sets of predictors in relation to specific tactics and totest their relationships with these tactics individually. Understanding more about influencestrategies requires us to examine the conditions under which we expect particular strategies tobe manifested. Framed in operational terms, we should concurrently account for multiple

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  • causes of individual tactics and multiple eects of individual predictors of influence. One suchapproach is to simultaneously examine multiple influence behaviors in relation to a relativelycomplete set of known or hypothesized predictors. This assertion follows the logic set forth byBacharach (1983) that influence strategy encompasses a way of thinking that involves consider-ation of ones power, ones objectives, and how one can most eectively be used to secure theother (pp. 371372).This study draws from four general sets of predictors (relational, individual dierences,

    demographic, and opportunity) to more fully examine the role that these play in subordinateschoice of upward influence strategies. Therefore, the second research question asked is What arethe patterns of influence antecedents that are associated with particular meta-categories ofinfluence strategies?In the following sections, we first present a conceptual basis for the hypothesized influence

    strategies. We then examine how dierent combinations of predictors may be related to use ofeach proposed strategy. Finally, we present research which assessed whether influence tacticsform hypothesized influence strategies, and also investigated hypotheses concerning theantecedents of these influence strategies.

    Influence Tactics and Influence Strategies

    Identifying influence tactics

    Influence behaviors have generally been identified in terms of the tactics used to obtain a desiredgoal from a target individual. As noted, the typology oered by Kipnis et al. (1980) has receivedthe most attention (e.g. Schriesheim and Hinkin, 1990; Yukl and Falbe, 1990). Recently,Schriesheim and Hinkin (1990) conducted four studies to improve the Kipnis et al. scales.Through an iterative process, they derived an 18-item instrument (six dimensions with threeitems each) with better reliability and validity than other instruments derived from the Kipnis etal. (1980) typology (e.g. the POIS; Kipnis and Schmidt, 1982). The resulting tactics were labeledassertive (e.g. expressed my anger verbally), rational (e.g. explained the reasons for my request),upward appeal (e.g. obtained the informal support of higher-ups), coalition (e.g. obtained thesupport of co-workers to back up my request), ingratiation (e.g. acted in a friendly manner priorto asking for what I wanted), and exchange (e.g. reminded him/her of past favors that I did forhim/her).

    Identifying influence strategies

    Based on the Kipnis et al. (1980) typology, Kipnis (1984) suggested that influence tactics can begrouped into three meta-categoriesstrong, weak, and rationalthat reflect particularmindsets on the parts of influences. In a later piece directed at a non-academic audience, thesestrategies were renamed as hard, soft, and rational (Kipnis and Schmidt, 1985). The particulartactics used to represent each strategy have diered across dierent studies. Kipnis and Schmidt(1985) proposed that a hard strategy consisted of tactics of assertiveness, that a soft strategyconsisted of tactics of friendliness or ingratiation, and that a rational strategy consisted of tacticsof rationality and bargaining or exchange. Barry and Shapiro (1992) used this categorization toexamine how dierent combinations of these influence strategies aected compliance. In an


  • investigation linking upward influence behavior with subordinate impression managementcharacteristics, Deluga (1991) created scales based on a somewhat dierent combination of thesix tactics. He viewed tactics of assertiveness, upward appeal, and coalition as reflecting a hardapproach or strategy, tactics of ingratiation and flattery as reflecting a soft approach, and tacticsof rationality and bargaining as reflecting a rational approach. However, neither Barry andShapiro (1992) nor Deluga (1991) empirically validated the meta-categorization scheme, nor hasany consistent theory base been used to support these categorizations.The following sections develop a conceptual basis for a categorization of upward influence

    tactics as representative of hard, soft, and rational strategies. These strategies can be seen tostem, in a broad sense, from such social influence processes as power dependence and socialexchange (Emerson, 1962; Homans, 1961), and in a more particular way, from those ofcompliance, identification, and internalization proposed by Kelman (1961), which Miller (1983)has noted are grounded in diering sources of the influence agents power1.

    Hard strategiesHard strategies may be described as those where the influence agent perceives that he or shecontrols meaningful reinforcements for the target (Tedeschi et al., 1973); this is the mechanismthrough which the agent expects compliance to be gained (Miller, 1983; Kelman, 1961). This maybe done either through direct control of rewards and punishments in return for complianceor non-compliance, or may be mediated through manipulative threats. The former means isgenerally associated with legitimate or coercive power, of which subordinates usually possesslittle. The use of an implied threat, however, is a hard influence tactic that is often available tosubordinates, given that interdependent tasks may often provide a power base for subordinates(Crozier, 1964). Within the Kipnis et al. (1980) typology, the verbal aggressiveness that defines asubordinates use of assertiveness with a superior may be meant to convey or presage the threatof a poorer working relationship, a lack of eort, or some other subtle obstructiveness on thepart of the subordinate if compliance is not gained.Likewise, the Kipnis et al. (1980) tactic of upward appeal, or taking matters over the

    supervisors head, clearly involves a direct threat to the supervisors legitimate authority. Themanipulative use of exchange may also be part of a hard strategy (Falbe and Yukl, 1992),especially when viewed from a power-dependence perspective (Emerson, 1962; Bacharach andLawler, 1977). When used in this fashion, exchange may be seen as a distributive bargaining toolbased on some facet of the supervisors dependence upon the subordinate, and is analogous to amarket transaction where bargaining power of the parties is unequal (Pfeer, 1992). Forexample, the subordinate may remind the superior of past eorts that were clearly beyond thecall of duty to obtain compliance, especially when coworkers or other superiors are aware ofthose eorts.

    Soft strategiesA soft strategy of upward influence involves less aggressive, more psychologically manipulatingmeans (Neale and Northcraft, 1991). This strategy is based in part on Kelmans (1961) notion ofidentification, focusing on reinforcing the targets role relationship with the influence agent(Miller, 1983). A soft strategy reflects agents perceptions that they do not control target

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    1 We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.

  • compliance. So, rather than involving some implicit threat, a soft strategy is designed to secure asupervisors volitional compliance to an influence request by either making the subordinate moreattractive in some way (the tactic of ingratiation), or by oering some presumably attractivefuture payback in return for compliance (the tactic of exchange).It is important to point out that individuals may use similar tactics in dierent ways. Therefore,

    it is possible that the same tactic may be reflected in dierent influence strategies. Although somerecent evidence has found that a soft strategy is more eective in the absence of an oeredexchange than in its presence (Barry and Shapiro, 1992), a broad stream of social psychologicalresearch has suggested that ingratiation tactics will not increase liking of the agent by the targetunless the target perceives that the influence agent actually intends to help him/her, and that helpis freely oered (Broll, Gross and Piliavin, 1974; Greenberg and Frisch, 1972; Nemeth, 1970).Thus we propose that both ingratiatory behaviors (e.g. acting friendly prior to making a request)and some forms of exchange may represent a soft strategy in compliance-gaining.

    Rational strategiesWith a rational strategy, subordinates appeal to or try to invoke instrumental reasoning on thepart of the supervisor....