An Examination of Interpersonal Influence in Consumption and Non-Consumption Domains

Lynnea Mallalieu, Virginia Tech
[ to cite ]:
Lynnea Mallalieu (1999) ,"An Examination of Interpersonal Influence in Consumption and Non-Consumption Domains", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 196-202.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 196-202

AN EXAMINATION OF INTERPERSONAL INFLUENCE IN CONSUMPTION AND NON-CONSUMPTION DOMAINS

Lynnea Mallalieu, Virginia Tech

INTRODUCTION

Individuals use a variety of tactics in interpersonal influence also referred to as compliance gaining attempts. Research in communication studies, psychology, organizational behavior, and consumer behavior supports the notion that people generally have a repertoire of influence tactics from which to choose when attempting to exert influence (Miller, Boster, Roloff and Seibold 1977; Kipnis, Schmidt and Wilkinson 1980; Aguinis, Nesler, Hosoda and Tedeschi 1993; Palan and Wilkes 1997). Progress in understanding interpersonal influence has been made in terms of specific typologies of influence tactics which have been developed, and in terms of the examination of specific situational variables which play a part in determining tactics that are likely to be used. One important situational variable which has not been xamined is the consumption related nature of the influence attempt. Specifically, from a consumer behavior perspective, we cannot say whether there are differences in the use of influence tactics in consumption versus non-consumption related influence attempts. The present research attempts to address this question. Of secondary interest is an examination of the choice of influence tactics in 'self’ versus 'other’ benefit influence attempts. Existing research indicates that individuals tend to be more persistent and aggressive in their compliance gaining attempts when they believe they are influencing the target for his or her own good (Boster and Stiff 1984). What is not as clear, however, is what tactics individuals use when they are to solely benefit from the target’s compliance.

In order to address the research questions outlined, a typology of influence tactics is required. Numerous typologies exist and are often used in research by incorporating them into specific messages generated by the researcher which subjects then indicate a likelihood of use of specific messages in a given scenario, this method has its drawbacks. Subjects are typically asked to imagine situations which may be unfamiliar to them, the typology used is finite and may contain behaviors that subjects do not typically use or may neglect tactics that are relevant. In an attempt to overcome some of these drawbacks, and extend methodological approaches to developing typologies, critical incident methodology is used in the present research. Prior to examining the methodology a review of prior research is presented.

PAST RESEARCH

The compliance gaining literature is vast, spanning several disciplines and decades. Given the length constraint imposed on this paper only research which has a specific link to the present study is presented. Readers interested in a more general review of the area are referred to Boster’s (1995) chapter on compliance gaining message behavior research.

Marwell and Schmitt (1967) were among the first to examine dimensions of compliance gaining strategies. Based on a review of the relevant literature of the time, they devised a list of 16 compliance gaining techniques and then searched for an underlying structure. Factor analysis revealed that the 16 techniques formed five underlying factorsBrewarding, punishing, expertise, impersonal commitments, personal commitments. This initial work, which attempted to provide an underlying conceptualization for grouping influence strategies, spawned numerous studies which focused not only on continuing to develop and refine typologies, but on situational and individual difference variables that affect choice of influence strategy. The importance of situational variables on compliance gaining message behavior is noted by Boster (1995) who cites several researchers who have examined situational variables which are thought to exert a strong influence on message strategy (e.g., Miller et. al. 1977; Cody and McLaughlin 1980; Cody, McLaughlin and Schneider 1981; Schenck-Hamlin, Wiseman and Georgacarakos 1982; Hertzog and Bradac 1984).

Consumer behavior researchers interested in influence strategies have also focused on developing typologies of consumption related strategies (Palan and Wilkes 1997) and have begun to examine certain relational variables (Mallalieu and Faure 1997). An interesting question which has not been addressed by consumer researchers and one which is of primary interest in this study is whether choice of strategy differs for consumption and non consumption related influence attempts. Another way of expressing this is in terms of the goal of the influence attempt. Is the agent’s goal to get the target to do something related to or involving consumption or not, and does this affect choice of influence strategy? Influence attempts are often conceived of as goal directed activities (Berger 1995). Numerous researchers have examined influence strategies and their link to specific desired end-stats or goals. Goals which have been examined previously in relation to influence attempts include specific social/emotional goals, for example, gathering social information, affinity-seeking, and embarrassing others (e.g., Bell and Daly 1984; Burleson 1984). In terms of consumer behavior, marketers should find it useful to ascertain if different strategies are favored when the goal is consumption related. Also of interest, as indicated, is the type of benefit the agent perceives. Based on previous research we can construe that individuals tend not to use persistent aggressive tactics when they are to benefit from the influence attempt but it is unclear as to what tactics they do use in personal benefit situations.

METHOD

In order to achieve the objectives outlined, data on actual influence attempts were collected via critical incidents. Data pertaining to all additional factors e.g., benefit, relationship characteristics, were collected via close-ended questions and scale items.

Critical Incident Method

The critical incident method involves gathering self-reported data about memorable experiences within a specific social context. It should be emphasized that the technique does not consist of a rigid set of rules governing data collection , rather it should be thought of as a flexible set of principles which must be modified and adapted to meet the specific situation at hand (Flanagan 1954). For the present research, incidents were collected using a questionnaire as opposed to interviews. Both data collection procedures have been used in the collection of critical incidents (e.g., Andersson and Nilsson 1964; Bitner, Booms and Tetreault 1990). Previous research has found that the method of collection has an impact on the number of incidents reported by subjects; interviews were found to result in significantly more incidents reported (Andersson and Nilsson 1964); however, as this research required only one incident per subject, a questionnaire was preferred due to the time consuming nature of conducting individual interviews with subjects. The critical incident method allows the researcher to examine actual recounted influence situations. Critical incidents provide very detailed accountings of influence attempts unlike the typical methodologies used in the study of interpersonal influence in which subjects provide lists of behaviors they are likely to use in a given scenario, or rate how likely they are to use tactics from a list provided by the researcher. Critical incident methodology does not restrict subjects to a particular scenario or type of influence attempt, and at the same time, it avoids the lack of specificity also found in this area where the researcher often does not know the specifics of the influence attempts that subjects are visualizing when they list tactics they use to 'get their own way’.

Data Collection

Sample Size. Data was collected from 60 undergraduates at a large southeastern university. Subjects received extra credit in an introductory marketing class for their participation in the study. Subjects were run in four groups of between 14 -16 per group. According to Flanagan (1954) guidelines for determining sample size when gathering critical incidents are not clear cut, however, he proposes two primary guidelines to use when assessing the adequacy of the sample; (1) type of behavior being examined in terms of its degree of complexity, and (2) number of new critical behaviors added to the classification system following each group of subjects. The present research asked subjects to recount a fairly simple, common eventBinfluencing others is a part of everyday lifeBand one which they were seemingly quite familiar with as all of the subjects readily and easily completed the task. In addition, coding of the four groups of subjects revealedthat the same behaviors were consistently being used, therefore, although there is no simple answer to the question of adequate sample size, the present research meets some basic guidelines.

Questionnaire. Subjects responded to a two-part questionnaire. The first part of the questionnaire asked subjects to think of a time recently when they had attempted to get someone to do something. They were asked to specifically think about what they said to the person or persons to try to get them to do what they wanted. Subjects were encouraged to write down in as much detail as possible exactly what was said. They were encouraged to use direct quotes if that helped them to be accurate in reporting the actual influence attempt. Subjects were provided with several pages of blank paper in order to recount the incident. Part two of the questionnaire consisted of scales and close-ended questions pertaining to a number of factors of interest. Subjects were asked to indicate who they were attempting to influenceBparent(s), roommate, professor, friend, and so forth. Subjects were asked whether the influence attempt was solely for personal gain or not, and whether or not they had rehearsed the attempt. Subjects completed a series of scales pertaining to power in the relationship. Finally, subjects were asked to report their gender, the gender of the target(s) and the number of targets. The entire process lasted 20B60 minutes.

ANALYSIS AND RESULTS

Coding of Incidents

The first phase of the analysis involved content coding of the critical incidents in order to identify specific tactics used. The content analysis of the critical incidents was initially undertaken by the author. All incidents were read and category definitions were devised for specific types of behaviors reported by subjects. As a basis for grouping behaviors, underlying social/psychological dimensions were sought as an attempt to provide more than overt labels to behaviors. Friestad and Wright (1994) comment that following their review of the compliance gaining literature they found that some taxonomies define tactics so broadly that 'to persuade’ often encompasses one single type of tactic and that labels are applied in a way which describes actions without attempting to examine their psychological impact. They indicate that our understanding of influence would be enhanced if we began to address the underlying psychological effects that tactics are thought to have. An initial attempt is made in this study to highlight the possible social/psychological impact that specific tactics may have.

Following the classification of behaviors into 7 tactic categories, data were coded according to the goal of the influence attempt. The two main goal categoriesBconsumption and non-consumption- were found to contain 2 sub-goal categories. All of the categories formed are described in detail in subsequent sections. Following the author’s initial content analysis, two coders unfamiliar with the project were provided with the category definitions of both the tactics and the goals. Intercoder reliabilities between each coder and the author were 83.3% and 86% based on 420 tactic judgments. Reliabilities were 93.4% and 90% based on 120 goal judgments. Disagreements were resolved through discussion involving the author and one of the coders.

QUALITATIVE RESULTS

The analysis of the critical incidents resulted in the following 7 categories of tactics: Request, Reason, Invoke Obligation, Bargain, Sensory Appeal, Agent Inflicted Consequence, Persist.

Request. This category contains very direct actics and some which are less direct, however, request tactics do not use reasons for the requested behavior. Subjects merely directly ask or demand, or more subtly express need or want. Each tactic, from a social/psychological perspective, typically obligates the target of the attempt to respond in some fashion. It is very difficult to ignore a question or a request. As seen in the following examples from the data, asking and demanding are the most straightforward of the request tactics:

"Will you guys go downtown with me?" (female attempting to get her friends to go to a bar).

I asked her if she wanted to go out and then I told her to go and get ready to go out. I said "Holly go and get ready to go out." (female attempting to get her roommate to go out).

In addition to asking and telling evidence was found that more indirect request approaches are usedBexpressing needs or wants. Although more subtle, these tactics again put pressure on the target to respond.

I told her that I definitely thought it was time for some new clothes and that I needed two new suits. (son attempting to get his mother to help pay for new clothes).

"I want them." (female attempting to get her boyfriend to buy her some chocolate candies).

Reason. This category, although similar to reasoning categories found in previous research (Palan and Wilkes 1997) is more detailed in terms of subtle but significant differences among tactics. This category not only includes the use of reasoning by subjects, it also includes justification. A reasoning tactic is one which draws a conclusion for the target about why he or she should comply. Justification, on the other hand, involves an attempt to show adequate grounds for something to be done without drawing any conclusions for the target. Examples from the text help to clarify the difference between more explicit reasoning and more implicit justification. The common underlying dimension is that both involve the use of statements which are designed to be logical, unemotional and rational. The first two examples are examples of reasoning, the last two are examples of justification.

"It is going to be a nasty weekend so there is no way we will be able to play because it is supposed to rain and snow. If we don’t play today we won’t be able to play again until next week sometime." (male roommate reasoning/drawing conclusions to support his attempt to get his roommate to play golf).

"You’ve been working hard so you deserve a break." (male roommate reasoning with his roommate to play cards).

"I have to wait for the bus late at night." (daughter justifying to her mother why she should be given a car on campus. Unlike reasoning where a conclusion is drawn based on the information, no conclusion has been drawn in this instance).

"I had to buy one more book for class that just came in to the bookstore." (daughter justifying to her mother why she needs money).

Invoke Obligation. This category revolves around the principle of reciprocity, the socio/cultural norm of gift giving, the principle of equity/fairness, and role obligations. The common underlying dimension among these tactics is that they all rely on the power of some type of social norm or perceived obligation. Invoking these types of obligations, which are normatively driven, has been shown to be quite a powerful method of gaining compliance (Cialdini 1985). The following are examples from the text of subject’s use of reciprocation, social obligation, equity/fairness, and role obligation:

"I took you out to dinner last night." (female attempting to get male friend to drive hr to the airport.)

"Man you were in my position once and I helped you out, what do you think should be done?" (male attempting to get roommate to lend him some money).

It was a couple days before my birthday and I wanted a new laptop. I said "it can be a birthday present for me." (female attempting to get her parents to buy her a new laptop).

I reminded them that my older sister had started to go on spring break her junior year in college. (female attempting to get permission from her parents for a spring break trip.)

"You’re gonna give a ticket to one of your scummy friends and screw me over? I’m your brother for Christ’s sake." (male attempting to get his brother to buy him a ticket to see R.E.M.).

This category extends Marwell and Schmitt’s (1967) debt category which revolves around calling in favors. If the agent is owed a favor, he or she is in a position of power to be able to call in the favor. It appears based on findings from the present study that individuals are willing to use other aspects of their relationship with the target which provide them with a power base from which to operate, e.g., birthdays, sibling relationships.

Bargain. Findings from the critical incidents support previous research which indicates that subjects are willing to bargain in order to get what they want. Bargaining includes concrete offers and unspecified personal 'favors’ in the hope that the target will comply. Subjects reported bargaining with money, food, time, alcohol, personal services, and basketball tickets. One subject even offered the services of a member of the opposite sex in return for compliance. As with tactics in the invoke obligation, category, this category relies on certain normative principles namely exchange. However, this category remains distinct from invoke obligation because without the implicit power needed to invoke an obligation, subjects have to offer to part with something when bargaining which is not done when invoking an obligation. Examples of bargaining from the text include:

"I’ll make breakfast for you and fill up your car with gas before you get up in the morning." (female attempting to get male friend to drive her to the airport).  [It is interesting to note that this is the same female who used the reciprocation rule by reminding the friend that she had taken him to dinner. She invoked the reciprocation rule only after she had tried bargaining. This pattern is typical of what was found throughout the data that invoking reciprocation was typically used as a last resort.]

"I’ll go in under with you or I will go in and get stamped and then come out and draw the stamp mark on your hand, then we will go back in together and say we have already got stamped." (female attempting to get under-21 roommate to go to a bar with her).

Sensory Appeals. Tactics in this category are designed to appeal to the target’s sense of fun, excitement, adventure, desire; typically in positive statements of consequence that would arise if the target were to comply. Although no incidents reported using the opposite, sensory appeals could be worded negatively, e.g., 'look at all the fun you’ll miss if you don’t comply.’ This category does not typically appear in most typologies. The use of critical incidents may have resulted in the use of very specific descriptive words and phrases which does not occur when more traditional methodologies are used.

I told him how it would be "such a great experience" and that we would "travel all over" and we would "have a lot of fun". (female attempting to get male friend to go on a study abroad program).

I said that for a measly $65 you can "experience the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains on the New River while having the ride of a lifetime." I told him about how much fun camping Friday and Saturday nights would be. (male attempting to get roommate to go white water rafting.)

"It’s 90 degrees everyday and the ocean is a huge crystal clear bathtub. The bars are awesome withtons of guys and girls packed in them. Activities are endless from jet skiing to snorkeling, to a booze cruise where the party is kicking." (male attempting to get friends to go to Cancun for spring break).

Exciting the senses has a powerful psychological and emotional impact as does fear aroused by the possibility of missing out.

TABLE 1

CATEGORIES OF INFLUENCE TACTICS

Agent Inflicted Consequences. This category includes statements of consequence that the agent will carry out. It includes physical, social, and emotional threats if the target does not comply. This tactic is meant to frighten targets into compliance not based on what they would be missing as with sensory appeals, but based on some sort of punishment inflicted by the agent on the target.

I threatened to beat him the next time I saw him if he wasn’t holding a ticket in his hand for me. (male attempting to get his brother to buy him a ticket to see R.E.M.).

I told her if she "didn’t put it on right now": I would make "tequila be the first shots she took." (female attempting to get her roommate to wear a party hat).

Persist. Persisting is different from the other tactics in that it is more of an overall approach as opposed to a specific tactic. Persisting is defined as a voluntary choice to pursue influence goals when facing resistance from a target (Ifert and Roloff 1996). A subject may persist and use the same tactic over and over again or he may use a variety of tactics in the face of resistance. Subjects in this study were deemed to have persisted if they reported attempting to achieve their goal more than once and/or if within their critical incident it was clear that they met with resistance yet continued to pursue the target. Previous definitions of persist restrict the tactic to simply using the same tactic again. This research utilizes a broader definition that seems to capture the notion of persisting more thoroughly. Individuals can persist yet this does not necessarily restrict them to one specific type of approach.

Table 1 provides a brief summary of the tactic categories.

Categories of Goals. Table 2 provides a brief overview of the goal categories. The analysis of the critical incidents resulted in 2 main goal and 2 sub-goal categories.

Consumption-related goals. Consumption related goals were defined as those involving a consumption related activity, or asking for money or permission to engage in a consumption related activity. Two consumption-related goals were uncovered in the analysis- activity and resources. Consumption related activities included going out to dinner, going shopping at the mall, going on spring break. Resources included attempting to acquire money and/or permission to make a purchase, take a trip, pay a bill, and so forth.

Non-Consumption-related goals. Non-consumption-related goals also have sub-categories of activity and resources. Non-consumption-related activities were categorized as such when it was apparent that money or making a purchase of any kind was not necessary or mentioned in order for the activity to occur. Examples included playing cards, playing darts, going to a meeting, going to a dance, going to the gym. Non-consumption resources included asking for a favor which involved time or help, or asking to borrow a physical object, not involving money. Examples included taking care of a pet, giving a ride to class, borrowing an object, e.g., class notes.

QUANTITATIVE RESULTS

Once all of the qualitative data had been coded, it was analyzed with the remaining data using SPSS. The data reveal that in terms of goal, 45% of subjects recounted consumption related attempts, o which 28.3% recounted consumption-related activities, and 16.7% recounted consumption-related attempts aimed at acquiring resources or permission. The remaining 55% of subjects recounted non-consumption related attempts, of which 35% recounted non-consumption related activities and 20% recounted attempts to acquire a resource, e.g., time or an object. In terms of personal benefit, 65% of subjects indicated that type of benefit was personal. In terms of who subjects were trying to influence, 68.3% reported that they were attempting to influence a friend; 31.7% reported that they were attempting to influence someone other than a friend, typically parents.

Type of Goal. In terms of specific results, significant differences were found among the use of tactics in relation to the goal of the attempt. Table 3 provides an overview of tactic use by goal category.

Consumption versus non-consumption results reveal significant differences for Request,, Sensory Appeal, Reason and Persist. When the goal was consumption related, subjects used request tactics significantly less than when the goal was non-consumption related, (c2=16.64, p<.000). Subjects used more sensory appeals when the goal was consumption related (c2=2.73, p<.09). Subjects used reasoning significantly more when the goal was consumption related, (c2=6.058, p<.014), and subjects persisted significantly less when the goal was consumption related, (c2=12.767, p<.000) which may be related to the fact that they rehearsed what they were going to say significantly more when the attempt was consumption related. Of the 36.7% who indicated that they rehearsed, 59% of them rehearsed consumption related attempts as opposed to non-consumption related attempts (c2=2.79, p<.095). Subjects who were better prepared did persist less (c2=7.03, p<.008). Further analysis revealed that rehearsing primarily took place when the goal was to acquire a consumption related resource. Of the 59% of subjects who reported rehearsing a consumption related attempt, 80% were asking for a resource.

In terms of specific tactics and goal sub-category differences, significant effects were found for Request, Bargain, Reason. Request tactics were used more when subjects needed a non-consumption resource, (c2=19.81, p<.000). Bargaining tactics were also used more when subjects needed a non-consumption resource, (c2=7.45, p<.05) and reasoning, was used more when subjects were attempting to get a consumption based resource, (c2=7.37, p<.06).

TABLE 2

CATEGORIES OF GOALS

TABLE 3

PERCENTAGES OF TACTIC USE BY GOAL

Type of Benefit. In order to determine 'benefit’ subjects in this study were asked 'would you solely benefit in that only you would personally gain something from this influence attempt?’ The majority of subjectsB65%- reported 'personal’ benefit. The question then became were these subjects using certain tactics more than subjects reporting 'other’ benefit? Marginally significant differences were found for Request, Bargain and Persist. Subjects used request tactics more in personal benefit situations, (c2=3.18, p<.07). Subjects used bargaining tactics more in personal benefit situations, (c2=2.88, p<.09). In addition to using these tactics, subjects also persisted less which in terms of existing research, suggests that subjects were doing the opposite from 'other-benefit’ situations in which the use of persistence is higher. Subjects have been found to be more persistent and aggressive when 'other-benefit’ is perceived (Boster and Stiff 1984). In this study subjects persisted less in personal benefit situations, (c2=2.97, p<.08).

Type of Relationship. Subjects used request tactics significantly more with friends, (c2=3.01, p<.08). Subjects used reasoning significantly more with non-friends, e.g., parents and professors, (c2=8.59, p<.003) and subjects persisted significantly more with friends, (c2=6.16, p<.013).

Power in Relationship. Subjects reported relative power in the relationship on a 5-point scale anchored by 'You have more power in the relationship’ and 'The other person has more power in the relationship.’ Using a lgistic regression model, power was found to be significantly, positively related to invoking obligation tactics, (W=3.84, p<.05). In other words, the less power subjects felt they had the more they attempted to invoke obligations which possibly was the only source of power available to them in their attempt to gain compliance.

DISCUSSION

This paper examined specific situational factors of interpersonal influence attempts and found significant differences among the use of influence tactics depending on the nature of the influence attempt. Utilizing critical incident methodology, subjects recounted actual influence attempts. Based on the behaviors subjects used, a typology of influence tactics was developed and differences among the use of tactics were found depending on whether the influence attempt was consumption related or not and whether the agent of the attempt would solely benefit from the target’s compliance. The use of critical incidents as an alternative method of gathering information about influence attempts has highlighted some categories of influence tactics that had previously been overlooked while providing support for existing categories which had been developed using different methods. The use of sensory appeals clearly came through in many of the recounted influence attempts. The imagery used by many subjects in an attempt to excite their targets is seemingly a powerful influence tactic, perhaps one which marketers should make use of to an even greater extent. Subjects’ willingness to invoke obligations is seemingly another powerful compliance gaining tool which has been examined in previous research, however, it seems that individuals are willing to invoke numerous types of factors in addition to calling in favors, which they feel obligates the target to them. Specific tests revealed differences in tactic use depending on the goal of the influence attempt. Subjects clearly felt the need to provide reasons when the goal was consumption related, especially if they were asking for money or permission and they rehearsed the attempt which may have resulted in them not having to persist as much.

In terms of benefit, subjects persisted less in personal benefit situations which extends previous findings, and they were willing to bargain more which alludes to the concept of reciprocity. In terms of the characteristics of the subject’s relationship with the target, findings support previous research (Mallalieu and Faure 1997) which indicates that power within the relationship has an effect on choice of tactics. When subjects were in a weaker power position they used more reasoning and they relied on the 'power’ associated with invoking an obligation in order to help them gain compliance.

In concluding, certain limitations of the research should be noted which suggest avenues for future research. As with any research which asks subjects to recall events certain biases may arise. Selective memory and social desirability may have resulted in influence attempts not being precisely recounted, and because the vast majority of subjects reported only successful influence attempts it was not possible to compare successful versus unsuccessful attempts. Finally, although this research attempted to derive a tactics typology based on underlying psychological, social, and emotional effects, there remains a tremendous amount of work to be done in terms of investigating the effects that specific tactics are believed to have and the circumstances under which specific tactics help to achieve compliance and the circumstances under which they fail to gain compliance.

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