In their research study, Gary Yukl and J. Bruce Tracey argue that influence tactics which involve securing voluntary cooperation such as consultation, inspirational appeal, and rational persuasion are more effective in influencing superiors, peers, and subordinates as compared to influence tactics that use force to seek desired results such as pressure, coalition, and legitimating (Yukl & Tracey, 1992). In order to prove their hypothesis, the authors collected data from both the manufacturing and the services sector and employed a variety of statistical tools to analyze the data. Through the statistical analysis, the authors found support for most of their hypotheses regarding direction of the respective influence tactics, impact of the respective tactics on task commitment, and impact of the respective tactics on managerial effectiveness.
I do like the fact that the authors have acknowledged the shortcomings of their studies and have advised the readers to apply the findings of their studies cautiously. It should be very difficult if not impossible to take into account all the factors that may determine the probability of success of a particular influence tactic in a given circumstance or environment. In addition, the relationship among all these factors may be too complex to be captured by statistical analysis. But the authors’ conclusions do make sense because cooperative tactics ensure the positive goodwill between the agent and the target. In addition, while forceful tactics may result in compliance, they may not be able to motivate the target to go beyond his way or obligations to achieve the objective. Even though this study was done in 1992, it seems to be quite relevant even today because we often hear about organizational managements taking steps to ensure more open communication with subordinates as well as inviting them to contribute ideas towards corporate strategic development.
Though most of the original hypotheses by the authors turned out to be true, some did surprise me. For example, I expected ingratiation to be used more in an upward direction as compared to downward direction. Similarly, though both rational persuasion and consultation had positive impact on targets’ task commitment in all directions, I expected the impact of rational persuasion to be greater than consultation but consultation had greater impact in all but upward direction.
The reading also left me with some questions. First of all, I wondered whether this study’s findings may also apply to other cultures or they are only relevant to the U.S. and maybe some countries in Western Europe. I also wondered if one of the factors that have huge impact on the relevance of the influence tactics may be the personalities and work styles of the targets. For example, subordinates who prefer guidance to autonomy may perform poor under influence tactics such as consulting.
This article has confirmed many of the beliefs I have on leadership. I believe that employees toward want more voice in the development of corporate strategies and the study does confirm that influence tactics such as consultation enhance employees’ commitment to leaders’ goals. But at the same time there have been few surprises, too such as the fact that pressure as influence tactic has negative impact on task commitment and effectiveness rating in all directions. I used to think that sometimes pressure is one of the most effective influence tactics because Steve Jobs applied it so efficiently.
Yukl, G., & Tracey, J. B. (1992). Consequences of Influence Tactics Used With Subordinates, Peers, and the Boss. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(4), pp. 525-535.