Positional power has its limitations, as does ambiguous power. As noted by Jena and Pradhan (2018), managers relying on appointed authority to persuade performance in others are often met with less than desirable outcomes. Likewise, those with ambiguous power (think: some HR roles) may find it difficult to influence organizational leaders to prioritize potentially effective practices and initiatives.
Trust First and Give Power Away
We know very well that trust is vital for collaboration, influence, and performance, yet it remains an elusive, vague, unprioritized, and even ignored concept. After all, someone has to be the first to trust, and trusting makes people feels vulnerable. This potential loss of control causes constraints to remain on employee performance, and when feeling challenged, new constraints are put in place.
Jena and Pradhan (2018) note “We are living in an independent world of work wherein we are expected to persuade others to get the job done, while securing our association in the system”. This leads to Kouzes and Posner's (2002) paradox of power, “We become most powerful when we give our own power away.”
The notion of trusting and giving power can elicit feelings of insecurity and even shutting down. This happens as one attempts to shield oneself from frightening feelings that are brought about by potentially unexplored and unsubstantiated loss of control and loss of position.
The Mindset for Helpful Persuasion
Common perspectives on persuasion promote a morality dilemma, whereas persuasion means getting someone to do something that is in your best interest and not there's. This notion of persuasion can be challenged, if seen through the lens of helpful influencing through effective leadership.
In the true sense of leadership, whereas leaders help take followers to a place better than the one they're headed for now, the morality issue diminishes. This is done by a method of persuasion that is based on the free will of individuals to take it or leave it without any repercussion, and draws on outcomes that can be beneficial to the employee. This takes a little work. It takes managers and organizational leaders to adopt a perspective that their own success is dependent on the success of those they are responsible for.
People as Humans
Persuasion, rather than influence by authority, requires managers to sharpen their communication skills. Inherently managers must add to the human dimension in the workplace. According to Lukaszewski (2006), the human dimension is “the greatest continuing area of weakness in management practice."
Lukaszewski continues that problems often result in a consensus acknowledgement of a communication breakdown. What follows may result in clearing up the acknowledged communication glitch. What is needed, however, is to put in place a plan to create a better understanding between managers and employees and develop the humanizing communication skills needed to make it work.
In order to effectively persuade rather than act on authority, managers must better understand their workforce. They are forced to understand employees’ natural motivations and talents, in order to develop and use their potential capacities. Managers, in effect, become more human at work. Now, trust can begin to be built.
Reciprocation, Cooperation and Consensus
Jena and Pradhan (2018) developed the 21-item Workplace Persuasion Scale (WPS). In a study of 469 junior, middle, and senior executives with a minimum of two years in their respective work units, three distinct factors were identified that aligned with the theoretical premise of the study: reciprocation, cooperation and consensus. The emergence of these three characteristics that “fully capture the essence of workplace persuasion, in an organizational setting” (p.15) allowed them to create the WPS.
This is relatively new research, which filled the gap, which was lack of a survey experiment to understand actual persuasion behavior in the workplace. As such, exploration and implementation of interventions based on these factors is still needed to allow practitioners to benefit their organizations from this new data.
What has come out of this study?
1. The reliable 21-item WPS that allows practitioners to gauge the persuasive abilities of employees.
2. Three characteristics (reciprocation, cooperation and consensus) that together can be further explored in management development opportunities.
Furthermore, we find in how Jena and Pradhan (2018) operationally define the three characteristics, that persuasion as we discuss here is not the type of negative persuasion that garner's moral arguments:
Reciprocation: Interaction, attention by listening other’s psycho-social needs, prosocial attitude, rewarding favorable functions, obligations to pay back, polite urge to play fair, feeling of indebtedness.
Cooperation: Involvement, creation of shared goals, engaging in open communication, reaching out to all levels of the hierarchy, expanding one’s reach and perspective, appreciating diversity, group cohesion, raising interpersonal connection.
Consensus: Participatory, solidarity of beliefs, seeking agreements, concern of all
group members, inclusive, egalitarian.
In light of this information, it may be worthwhile to revisit the role of effective, helpful persuasion in the workplace. Decreasing the use of power by given authority, and increasing the use of persuasion can provide a greater sense of embeddedness with the organization. Managers will be forced to better understand the inherent motivations and talents of their workforce, thus developing and better utilizing potential capacities to increase performance.
• The notion of trusting and giving power can elicit negative feelings. This is natural.
• Trusting and giving power is required if adopting the perspective that their own success is dependent on the success of those they are responsible for.
• Managers must add to the human dimension in the workplace, rather than take away from it.
• Managers must understand employees’ natural motivations and talents, in order to develop and use their potential capacities.
• Reciprocation, cooperation and consensus fully capture the essence of workplace persuasion, in an organizational setting.
Jena, L. K., & Pradhan, S. (2018). Workplace persuasion: Conceptual model, development and validation. Global Business Review. https://doi.org/10.1177/0972150918761086
Kouzes, J.M. and Posner, B.Z. (2002) The Leadership Challenge. 3rd Edition, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Lukaszewski, J. (2006). Rethinking employee communication: A strategic analysis. Jim Lukaszewski Strategy