Toward an Understanding of the Choice of Influence Tactics: the Impact of Power

ABSTRACT - Individuals often attempt to influence the behaviors and actions of others in consumption contexts. When exerting influence, individuals rely on specific influence tactics, such as bargaining and emotional appeals. This paper examines the impact of power on the choice of influence tactics in relationships between influencers and targets. Specifically, the impact of balance of power and intensity of power on the choice of influence tactics is investigated. Hypotheses are developed and empirically tested on a sample of sorority members. The results provide support for the assertion that power directly affects choice of influence tactics.


Lynnea Mallalieu and Corinne Faure (1998) ,"Toward an Understanding of the Choice of Influence Tactics: the Impact of Power", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 407-414.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 407-414


Lynnea Mallalieu, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Corinne Faure, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Individuals often attempt to influence the behaviors and actions of others in consumption contexts. When exerting influence, individuals rely on specific influence tactics, such as bargaining and emotional appeals. This paper examines the impact of power on the choice of influence tactics in relationships between influencers and targets. Specifically, the impact of balance of power and intensity of power on the choice of influence tactics is investigated. Hypotheses are developed and empirically tested on a sample of sorority members. The results provide support for the assertion that power directly affects choice of influence tactics.


Intimate couples, parents and children, friends and colleagues, represent a broad array of social relationships where the actions and behaviors of one individual are often influenced by those of another. Consumption decisions, in particular, are often made as the direct or indirect result of some sort of interpersonal influence attempt (see for example Ward and Reingen 1990). In attempting to affect another individual’s behavior, people rely on a variety of influence tactics. The choice of a specific tactic is, to a large extent, affected b factors that are germane to the relationship and the situation in which the influence attempt is taking place. The objective of this research is to examine some characteristics of interpersonal relationships and influence situations that affect the choice of influence tactics.

Much of the previous work on influence tactics has been of a descriptive nature, identifying typologies of influence tactics that are used in various types of relationships and settings. This paper attempts to move beyond description to prediction. The ability to successfully predict the influence tactics likely to be used in certain relationships should be of interest to consumer behavior researchers interested in family decision-making, salesperson-customer relations, as well as other dyadic and small group relationships.


Several factors affect an individual’s choice of influence tactic. For example, Guerin (1995) found that the number of target individuals affected the choice of tactics: different influence tactics were used in one-on-one as opposed to group influence situations. Falbo and Peplau (1980) found that an individual’s choice of influence tactic was dependent on the individual’s relationship with the target: influence tactics used by teenagers on parents differed from those used on friends. Palan and Wilkes (1997) found that parents used different influence tactics in response to their children’s influence attempts. Understanding why the choice of influence tactics is affected by so many seemingly diverse factors would help to guide predictions about the choice of tactics.

The concept of power has provided the primary theoretical basis for much research on influence. Placing power in the context of a given social relationship or influence situation helps to develop a better understanding of the impact of power on an individual’s choice of influence tactic.


Power is central to understanding how behavior is influenced, however, there has been much debate and little agreement on a definition of this concept. Underlying the numerous definitions of power are some basic similarities: (1) power is generally concerned with influence or control of behavior; (2) power is not an attribute of the actor in isolation of a specific relationship but is instead a property of a social relation; (3) power in a relationship can be either balanced or unbalanced (sometimes referred to as symmetry and asymmetry or equality and inequality of power).

These characteristics indicate that power is relationship or situation specific. As indicated by the underlying characteristics central to definitions of power, it is not always one-sided. This indicates that power can be balanced or unbalanced in a relationship. Mutual interdependence, which indicates a balance of power, is commonly found in social relationships, e.g., among friends, intimates, or members of a cohesive group (Cartwright 1959). Relationships where power is balanced do not neutralize the use of power, each party may continue to exert profound control over the other (Emerson 1961). Relationships where power is unbalanced are also easily envisaged, for example, employer to employee, parent to child, or when the influencer is in a numerical minority. Research on minority influence focuses on power, or a lack of power, and its relationship to influence. When acting in a minority situation, an individual lacks power, status, and competence (Wood, Lundgren, Ouellette, Busceme and Blackstone 1994). Based on the preceding, it is argued that relationships and influence situations vary in the extent to which power is balanced or unbalanced.

In addition to the balance dimension of power, the intesity of power can also vary in relationships. In relationships where the fulfillment of physical and psychological needs that are very central to an individual are controlled by another, dependence will be high. As alluded to by Dahl (1957), the type and number of resources that are controlled by an individual provides an indication of the depth of his power and the range of his power. In a relationship where the fulfillment of numerous needs (range) that are central to an individual (depth) are controlled by another, intensity of power would be highest. In a relationship where few, peripheral needs are controlled by another, intensity of power would be lowest. By definition, in low power intensity relationships, individuals are not highly dependent on the relationship for their physical and psychological well-being. Relationships between casual acquaintances, work colleagues, or between a salesperson and a customer, would be typical of relationships where the intensity of power is low. Relationships at the high end of the power intensity dimension would be very close or intimate relationships, those between close friends, husbands and wives, or children and their parents. The more central the relationship is to an individual, the greater the ability of the other person(s) in the relationship to reward or punish the individual in a manner that will have either a very beneficial or a very detrimental effect on the individual.

Power is clearly a relationship specific concept that varies along two key dimensions: balance and intensity, and by examining these underlying dimensions of power, it is possible to address some of the seemingly diverse factors that have been previously reported as affecting an individual’s choice of influence tactics. For example, Falbo and Peplau’s (1980) finding that subjects reported using different tactics depending on their relationship with the person they were trying to influence can be reinterpreted in terms of balance and intensity of power in the relationships. Similarly, Palan and Wilkes (1997) found that parents used five different strategies solely based on their role as legitimate authorities and that adolescents generally recognized and respected this authority. These results can be explained by the fact that there typically are imbalances in power between children and their parents, which leads to the use of specific influence strategies. In addition, Guerin’s (1995) finding that individuals use different tactics in one-to-one influence situations as opposed to one-to-group influence situations can also be interpreted in terms of the balance of power in the influence situation. An individual attempting to influence a group of people is in a numerical minority which equates to a weaker power position. In terms of the intensity of power in a relationship, Guerin (1995) found that individuals use different tactics on friends as opposed to strangers.

In summary, previous results in the literature can be reinterpreted in terms of variations of power in relationships and influence situations, which affect an individual’s choice of influence tactics. Before specifically examining the impact of power on the choice of influence tactics, influence tactics need to be further introduced.


An individual’s repertoire of influence tactics contains many different communication styles and behaviors designed to help the individual 'get his or her own way’. Influence tactics or specific communication tactics have been examined by researchers in a number of domains (e.g., Kipnis, Schmidt and Wilkinson 1980, organizational behavior; Boyle, Dwyer, Robicheaux and Simpson 1992, marketing channels; Kirchler 1993, family decision-making; Guerin 1995, husband-wife relationships; and Palan and Wilkes 1997, adolescent-parent influence).

Numerous typologies of influence tactics have been inductively derived. For example, Yukl and Falbe (1990) concentratedon identifying the tactics commonly used by managers on their subordinates and peers; Frazier and Sheth (1985) focused on identifying influence tactics used by channel members on other channel members; Kirchler (1990) identified tactics used by husbands and wives on each other; and Palan and Wilkes (1997) identified tactics used by adolescents on their parents.

Kipnis et al. (1980) are credited with the first typology of interpersonal influence tactics that applies across contexts. Following a thorough examination of this typology, Schriesheim and Hinkin (1990) proposed a refined set that includes the following tactics: exchange, which refers to gaining influence by reciprocation of materials or friendship; ingratiation, which refers to influencing the target to like one in order to gain some other end; rationality, which involves the use of arguments and information to influence the target; assertiveness, which is a mixture of emotional influence and confrontation; upward appeal, which refers to calling on someone with authority or power to help influence; and coalition, which means using group support in the influence attempt. These six influence tactics form the basis of the hypotheses that are developed and tested in the remaining sections of this paper.


As previously stated, power is a key factor affecting an individual’s choice of influence tactics. There is an abundance of empirical research demonstrating that individuals in a position of power are able to successfully exert influence or, in other words, achieve desired changes in another individual’s actions or behaviors (see Corfman and Lehmann 1987; Erez, Rim and Keider 1986; Kipnis 1984; Yukl and Falbe 1990). These individuals often achieve these changes by using tactics that reflect their superior power, for example, assertiveness tactics or tactics that legitimize authority in the relationship. What is somewhat less intuitive is the role played by power in determining choice of influence tactics in relationships where power is unbalanced and the individual in the weaker position is attempting to exert influence.

Power-Imbalanced Influence

An imbalance of power can be the result of the relationship itself, e.g., parent to child, or it can be the result of an influence situation in which one individual may find him or herself attempting to influence a group of people. There is an imbalance of power in either case. This research utilized a numerical minority as representing a power imbalance; thus existing research from the minority research paradigm provides support for the formation of specific hypotheses.

In the minority research paradigm, greater numbers of influencers are associated with greater power and ability to exert influence, whereas greater numbers of targets are associated with greater ability to resist influence. Despite this heightened resistance to influence, minorities in many instances still successfully exert influence. In minority situations, power, or more precisely a lack of power, forces individuals in the minority to adopt certain behavioral and communication styles that they might not necessarily consider if they were in a position of power.

The study of a specific influence tactic, ingratiation, is often connected to the study of power differentials. Ingratiation involves behaviors designed to increase one’s attractiveness to another. If the influencer X first acts as an ingratiator and can get the target Y to like him/her, then the target’s power over the influencer will be diminished. This idea of diminishing the power of Y over X can be stated in terms of attempting to balance an unbalanced power relationship as suggested by Emerson (1961). Once the balance of power is more equitable, there are number of influence tactics in addition to ingratiation that are available to the influencer. Ingratiation is often the leavening factor that makes other tactics effective (Jones 1963). Power deficits and the link to ingratiation lead to the following main effects hypothesis:

H1: The use of ingratiation tactics will be highest in relationships with an imbalance of power, where the influencer is in the weaker position.

High Intensity of Power. In a relationship where the intensity of power is high and the influencer is in a weaker position, rationality tactics are likely. Research on minority influence has found that consistent repeated statements of opinion are one of the cornerstones of minority effectiveness (Moscovici 1985b). The minority’s consistent advocacy of its position presumably leads the majority to regard the minority as certain and confident (Moscovici and Faucheux 1972). These findings within the minority research paradigm indicate that rational arguments are likely when an individual is in a weak position due to a numerical minority. Reasoning was also found to be the most effective strategy used by adolescents in Palan and Wilkes (1997). Although not in a numerical minority, adolescents were still in a weaker power position due to the characteristics of the relationship. In either case, individuals in a weaker position may feel obligated to explain or rationalize a request and are more likely to spend the cognitive energy necessary to explain a request if the relationship is central to them.

H2: The use of rationality tactics will be highest in relationships with unbalanced, high intensity power.

Low Intensity of Power. In low intensity, unbalanced power relationships, coalition tactics are likely. Guerin (1995) found that coalition tactics were used more by individuals influencing a group of strangers, where power is unbalanced and intensity of power is low, than when influencing a group of friends. Coalition tactics help to equate the balance of power in an unbalanced power relationship. Unlike upward appeal tactics which only involve one extra person, coalition tactics involve more than one and can be perceived as ganging up which may not be acceptable in balanced power relationships.

H3: The use of coalition tactics will be highest in relationships with unbalanced, low intensity power.

Power-Balanced Influence

Predictions for the choice of tactics in relationships where power is balanced have also not received much attention in the literature. The fact that power is balanced does not preclude influence attempts within a relationship. Using power to coerce the target into complying, however, is not an option. With no superior power base from which to operate, individuals in a balanced relationship are more likely to negotiate, bargain, or offer an exchange in order to get what they want. The balance of power implies that each individual is equally dependent on the other in the relationship and thus in order to maintain the mutual interdependence there must be an equal give and take in the relationship.

High Intensity of Power. Exchange is especially likely to be considered when the balanced nature of power is combined with a high intensity of power in the relationship. A high intensity power relationship is, by definition, one that is of central importance to an individual, for example, husband-wife relationships. Individuals are more likely to offer an exchage to someone they have an on-going, close relationship with as opposed to a stranger or a causal acquaintance. It is easier to ensure that the exchange is reciprocated, i.e., the target holds up his or her end of the bargain, in high intensity relationships. Support for the prediction that exchange tactics are commonly used in high intensity, power-balanced relationships is found in a number of studies. Guerin (1995) found that exchange tactics were more likely to be used on a friend, presumably a relationship exhibiting mutual high intensity interdependence, than on a group of strangers, where power is, by definition, unbalanced and low in intensity. Yukl and Falbe (1990) also found that exchange tactics were used more in lateral influence attempts (balanced power) as opposed to upward influence attempts. Similarly, bargaining tactics were found to be used far more than other tactics in intimate relationships (high intensity) (Howard, Blumstein and Schwartz 1986).

H4: The use of exchange tactics will be highest in relationships with balanced, high intensity power.

In addition, in relationships where power is of high intensity and balanced, for example, intimates or good friends, assertiveness tactics are also likely. In highly intense mutual dependence relationships, certain emotionally charged behaviors are accepted as part of the relationship. Behavioral norms are less restrictive in relationships which are central to both individuals. As a consequence, 'demanding’ behavior, when attempting to get the other person to do something, is deemed acceptable within these relationships. Both tactics, assertiveness and exchange, are thus likely in this type of relationship and factors which ultimately favor one tactic over the other are likely to include the objective of the influence attempt, the number of previous attempts, and the expected response of the target. Guerin (1995) provides support for the prediction of assertiveness tactics in a high intensity, balanced power relationship. Although subjects themselves were reluctant to admit to using assertiveness tactics on friends in Guerin’s (1995) study, they did report that 'people in general’ are more likely to use assertiveness tactics on friends. Social desirability may have accounted for subjects’ reluctance to admit to the use of assertiveness tactics on friends.

H5: The use of assertiveness tactics will be highest in relationships with balanced high intensity power.

Low Intensity of Power. Individuals in low intensity relationships are less likely to be familiar with each other’s needs and points of view. In attempting to influence a target with whom the influencer is not highly familiar, enlisting the aid of someone else may be a help. Appealing to a higher authority is a tactic employed by individuals when they are unsure of how to approach a target. Guerin (1995) found that individuals are more likely to use upward appeal tactics on strangers than on friends. In a low intensity power balanced relationship, it is difficult for an individual to gauge the best influence strategy to use, therefore, he or she may seek help by appealing to another individual. The individual appealed to is usually someone in a position of power who can exercise power more effectively in attempting influence, or can advise the influencer on an appropriate strategy to use with the target. [Upward appeal, as opposed to coalition, is predicted given the balanced nature of power. Coalition is similar to upward appeal but can be interpreted as ganging up because it involves more than one additional person. Therefore upward appeal is more likely in balanced situations and coalition is more likely in unbalanced power situations.]

H6: The use of upward appeal tactics will be highest in relationships with balanced, low intensity power.

The hypotheses developed in this section make specific predictions about the use of certain influence tactics in what the authors feel are interesting yet neglected types of influence situations with specific relational power characteristics. The hypotheses are summarized in Figure 1.

The remainder of the paper will describe the study carried out to test these hypotheses, present the results obtained, and finally discuss these findings and suggest areas for future research.


Subject Characteristics

The objective of this study was to examine the choice of tactics in relationships which varied along the two dimensions of power. The specific relationships used were those among women within a national sorority. In order to identify specific relationships which varied on the two power dimensions, an initial questionnaire was distributed and completed by 30 of 46 members of a sorority at a large southeastern university. The women ranged in age from 19 to 22. The minimum time that any one subject had been a member of the sorority was nine months. Of the 30 women who completed the initial questionnaire, 21 lived in the sorority house.

The initial questionnaire served as the basis for identifying, for each woman, names of other sorority members with whom she was in a high or low intensity power relationship. This questionnaire was distributed by one of the sorority advisors at a regular weekly meeting. General instructions were given verbally and were repeated on the instrument which was then self-administered. In an attempt to tap high intensity relationships, subjects were asked to furnish names of sorority members based on the following questions:

1. Within the sorority, who do you consider to be your closest friends?

2. Within the sorority, who do you usually go to parties or socialize with?

3. Within the sorority, who do you usually discuss very personal problems with? [These questions were designed to tap close personal friendships and are similar to questions used by Reingen, Foster, Brown and Seidman (1984) who were attempting to map various social relationships within a sorority.]


The information provided in the questionnaires along with additional information provided by the sorority was used to create pairings of close/best friends. In addition, for each woman in the sample, the names of three other close friends (different from the original close/best friend) were identified. Since these four individuals were those who had been identified by each subject as her closest friends, they represented her most central relationships in the sorority and were, therefore, viewed as high intensity power relationships. Thus, these two sets of names served as the basis for developing high intensity power relationships.

To develop the pairings and groupings for the low intensity relationships, names other than those mentioned in the questionnaire were used for those who responded to the first questionnaire and names other than roommates, pledge class members and 'big’ or 'little’ sister were used for those who did not fill in the questionnaire.

To manipulate the balance dimension of power, the number of persons to be influenced was varied. Thus, for a balanced relationship, the influencer would attempt to influence one person. For an unbalanced relationship, the influencer would attempt to influence a group of three individuals. The relationships used are summarized as follows:

High intensity, balanced power: Sorority member influencing a very close/best friend.

High intensity, unbalanced power: Sorority member influencing a group of 3 very close friends.

Low intensity, balanced power: Sorority member influencing a non-close other member.

Low intensity, ubalanced power: Sorority member influencing 3 non-close other members.

Study Procedures

The main survey on influence tactics was administered three weeks after the initial questionnaire. The main survey contained four short scenarios each depicting a situation where the individual surveyed was attempting to influence other sorority members (based on the names identified in the steps described previously). In other words, the pairings and groups of names previously outlined became the names of the targets of the various influence attempts. Thus, each member received a tailored questionnaire that contained names of individuals relevant to her very close and her non-close relationships, in either a one-to-one or one-to-three influence situation. A Latin Square design was used within the questionnaire to counterbalance the combination of relationships with scenarios. This ensured that even though each subject saw each scenario, the order of the relationships was systematically rotated between scenarios to guard against order effects. The situations depicted in the scenarios were typical of influence situations that the sorority women might find themselves in, for instance influencing others to join a compact disc club, or convincing others to vote for a specific 'social’ event. After reading each scenario, subjects completed a 22 item-adapted version of the Schriesheim and Hinkin (1990) scale of influence tactics: ingratiation, rationality, exchange, assertiveness, coalition and upward appeal (samples of the items appear in Table 1). Specifically, subjects were asked to indicate on 7-point scales (anchored by (1) not at all likely and (7) extremely likely) how likely they would be to use the behaviors described in the scales in order to influence the targets. Each dependent measure was comprised of either three or four single item measures.3 The 22-item influence tactics scale was submitted to a factor analysis with Varimax rotation. Following the initial analysis, three items that did not load on the appropriate factor or cross-loaded were dropped from the analysis but overall, the factor structure looked as expected. Cronbach’s alphas ranged from .74 to .92 and correlation coefficients from .49 to .72 (see Table 2). Based on satisfactory reliability, aggregate measures were created for each tactic.



Demand and Manipulation Checks

After reading the four scenarios and completing the influence tactics scales, subjects were asked to respond to an open-ended demand check question. One subject guessed the nature of the study and was subsequently excluded from the analyses, leaving a total of 30 usable questionnaires. At the end of the questionnaire, subjects completed manipulation check items assessing the success of the power manipulations. Subjects were asked about each of the specific named targets within their questionnaire. In high intensity power relationships, subjects felt greater commitment (m=2.02) to the relationship than in low intensity power relationships (m= 2.44) (reverse score items). (In weaker power positions (unbalanced power) subjects felt they had less influence than in balanced power positions (m= 2.09 and 3.34 respectively)).


To test the hypotheses, analyses of variance using the influence tactics as dependent variables and the two dimensions of power as within-subject independent factors were conducted. Table 3 reports the means and standard deviations for each influence tactic within each relationship type. Table 4 reports the statistical results of the analyses.

The results indicate that in general differences were found in the use of tactics along the dimensions of power. Specifically, asseriveness and exchange tactics were used more in balanced relationships than in unbalanced relationships, whereas coalition tactics were used more in unbalanced than in balanced relationships. In addition, coalition and upward appeal tactics were used more in low than in high intensity power relationships, whereas exchange tactics were used more in high than in low intensity power relationships.

Power-Imbalanced Influence

Hypothesis 1 predicted that ingratiation would be highest when the relationship was unbalanced with the influencer in a weaker position of power. While statistical significance was not reached, the means were in the right direction (m=4.13 for unbalanced relationships vs. m=3.8 for balanced relationships). When examining the overall means in Table 3, ingratiation appears to be a widely used tactic across all conditions. It is possible that the sample characteristics inflated the use of ingratiation across cells. Subjects were women belonging to a sorority whose doctrine supports the ideal that all members should be kind, supportive, and respectful of all other members; thus, the use of ingratiation tactics is likely to have been inflated across all relationships because of the sorority’s ideals. Hypothesis 2 predicted that rationality tactics would be highest in relationships with a high intensity and an imbalance of power. No differences for the use of rationality tactics were found across conditions thus H2 was not supported. Hypothesis 3 predicted that the use of coalition tactics would be highest in relationships with a low intensity and an imbalance of power. The data provides support for H3 (F(1,29)=5.19, p<.04).

Power-Balanced Influence

Hypothesis 4 predicted that the use of exchange tactics would be highest in balanced, high intensity power relationships. The analyses support this hypothesis. Use of exchange tactics was highest in relationships where power was balanced and high in intensity (F(1,29)=15.04, p<.001). Hypothesis 5 predicted that the use of assertiveness tactics would be highest in relationships with a high intensity and a balance of power. Support was provided for H5 (F(1,29)=15.04, p<.001). Hypothesis 6 predicted that the use of upward appeal tactics would be highest in low intensity, power balanced relationships. Support was not found for H6, however, upon examination of Table 4, a main effect for upward appeal was found along the intensity dimension. The means indicate that upward appeal was used more in low intensity relationships which provides partial support for the arguments presented for the development of hypothesis 6. Upward appeal was the least used of all the tactics which may indicate that this particular sample is not as prone to upward appeal as other samples, e.g., employees in an organizational setting where upward appeal use might be quite high.






It has long been accepted that individuals are capable of influencing the behavior of other individuals. Researchers interested in influence have examined numerous factors which affect influence attempts (see Beatty and Tilpade 1994; Corfman and Lehmann 1987; Webster 1995). However, little predictive research focusing on the choice of influence tactics in given relationships has been undertaken. The link between power and influence provides a basis for understanding the different relational factors that affect choice of tactics in influence attempts. This paper demonstrates that an understanding of how the dimensions of power operate within a relationship leads to predictions about the choice of specific influence tactics in a given relational context. Some of the results found in this study have immediate applications for consumer behavior researchers (for instance the preferred use of upward appeal tctics in relationships with a low intensity of power can be directly applied to salesperson-consumer relationships). The unexpectedly high use of rationality and ingratiation tactics across conditions can be addressed from several different perspectives. The objective of the influence attempt in each scenario was for personal gain which may have caused subjects to feel compelled to explain the reason for their request and ask for it in a nice way. Previous research indicates that the objective of the influence attempt has an effect on choice of tactics (Yukl, Guinan and Sottolano 1995). In addition, the characteristics of the sample in this present study may also have affected the use of rationality and ingratiation tactics. Sorority members are indoctrinated to deal with each other in a manner which involves discussing problems, being sensitive to the needs of others and so forth. This discussion would not be complete without mentioning the intriguing and under-researched area of sequencing and combining of tactics. Is the use of ingratiation high because it is always used first or combined in some way with other tactics? Is it possible that if an individual’s attempt at being ingratiating while presenting rational arguments fails, that he or she will resort to certain other tactics predicted in this study such as upward appeal, coalition, exchange or assertiveness? For example, hypotheses 4 and 5 predict exchange and assertiveness tactics for high intensity, balanced relationships. Using an exchange tactic implies the willingness to part with something of value; therefore, is it used in sequence only after other tactics have been tried, e.g., assertiveness? These questions provide interesting areas for future research and debate.




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Lynnea Mallalieu, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Corinne Faure, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25 | 1998

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