To influence is to have an effect on people that helps to determine their actions, behavior, perceptions, or attitudes. The opposite of influence is to have no effect. But most of us regard influencing others as bringing their actions, behavior, and views more into line with our own. The opposite of that sense of influence would then be inducing others to adopt positions that contradict our own.
Because I know of no English word for that kind of influence, I'll call it anti-influence. Like influence, anti-influence can be abused, but let us consider only unintentional anti-influence.
Especially in knowledge-oriented workplaces, anti-influence can be costly, when groups engaged in collaborative problem solving might reject contributions that could have led to brilliant solutions. How does this happen?
One widely used framework for studying influence consists of six principles of persuasion developed by Robert Cialdini. For each of the six, I suggest below how they can lead to anti-influence.
- To use reciprocity, the influencer induces in the target a sense of indebtedness by means of gifts or favors.
- If someone frequently fails to reciprocate, others may develop resentments. Then later, when the nonreciprocator tries to influence the team, suspicion and resentment can block adoption of any of the nonreciprocator's suggestions.
- Commitment and consistency
- People like to see themselves as consistent — that they follow through on their commitments.
- If an Especially in knowledge-
anti-influence can be costlyanti-influencer is known for inconsistency, and not following through, others might develop distrust. The probability of rejection of his or her contributions is then elevated, however obviously correct they might be.
- Social proof
- When we're uncertain, we seek confirmation of our choices by observing what others do.
- Most companies, departments, and work groups loathe being the first to adopt a practice. And if someone who's widely disrespected advocates a position, that disrespect affects how people assess the advocated position, likely due, in part, to the halo effect.
- People we like, especially people who are like us, or whom we find physically attractive, are more effective influencers — for us.
- If someone is widely disliked, when that person tries to influence the team to adopt a position, that dislike affects how people assess the advocated position, likely due again, in part, to the halo effect.
- People respect authority. At work, the emblems of authority are rank and professional respect, often indicated by office location, size, and furnishings.
- People of low rank, or who are new to the organization or to the subject matter, or who lack elite professional credentials, have a more difficult time gaining adherents to their positions, however correct they may be.
- The principle of scarcity is that the more rare and difficult-to-obtain something is, the more it's valued.
- Those who offer their opinions and thoughts too liberally are more likely to find them ignored or even opposed.
Watch for behaviors that might confer anti-influencer status. Once you identify anti-influencers, you're better able to assess their contributions objectively. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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