!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Asha Kaul on Upward Influence

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Asha Kaul on Upward Influence

In a paper (pdf) published in the Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention, Asha Kaul, a professor now at the Foundation for Liberal and Management Education in India, reported on interview-based research concerning tactics employees use to exert upward influence in a certain type of organizational setting, namely one characterized by:
  • Transparency of policies, roles, attitude to work, and relationships with superiors and subordinates.

  • Flexibility with respect to such matters as deadlines, goals, policies, and dealing with personal issues.

  • An open door policy, meaning, more specifically, receptivity to subordinates' ideas.

  • Free-flowing communication/informal talk, meaning greater use of informal chats in person and by phone than of formal meetings and email.
Kaul cites as the main finding of her study the conclusion that "there is more flexibility in terms of usage of tactics when the communication process is informal."

For me, what was most interesting was the set of upward influence tactics Kaul found people using at the global company where she conducted her 23 interviews:
  • Reason and logic

  • Upward appeal

  • Imitation of the superior's communication and behavioral patterns.

  • Aggression, i.e., the "need to take a stand, push [one's] way forward, and convince the other by forcing [one's] views and opinions."

    "... an interviewee recounts that the appropriate person to take a decision in moments of crisis is the employee 'on the spot'. ... In this situation, unwillingness of the superior to listen or unfamiliarity with the situation, for instance, can result in time loss and cancellation of deals. Such instances necessitate that the subordinates merely 'tell' the superior of moves being taken for producing desired results 'because our presence is in a do or die situation'."

  • Reasoned aggression, defined as "forceful expressions or statements, pushing forward of ideas relentlessly, unmindful of the convictions of the other party."

    "... this study revealed that there was a clubbing together of reason/logic and aggression. From the findings it emerges that usage of either reason or aggression is not enough. Conjoining the two tactics produces optimum results in persuasion."

  • Nonchalance, a "tactic in which the agent makes an attempt to sway the target by indicating lack of interest or involvement in the subject under discussion. ... This take it or leave it tactic was seen to follow the reasoned aggression tactic."

    As described by one interviewee: "If the boss is not willing to listen or get convinced by reason, aggression or a combination of the two, I move on to a very effective way of convincing him ... Show total lack of interest in the issue ... show disinterest in the team proceedings ... the [superior] then asks me the reason for it and in an informal chat I tell him."
It is the last two tactics — reasoned aggression and nonchalance — that are relatively uncommon in discussions of upward influence, though certainly not unheard of among people with decent influence skills. Kaul's description of their use brings a welcome additional degree of realism to her report on how people at a dynamic organization get others to see things their way and to act accordingly.


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