How many influence tactics exist? There were a number of attempts to create influence taxonomies in the 1980s, and the answer to the question depends on (you guessed it!) who you ask. There's even debate over how to think about the question. Some think we should be looking for basic, underlying dimensions to influence approaches. Others attempt to identify families or clusters of tactics. Still others attempt to collate the number of individual tactics that can be identified. An example of an influence dimension would be that of social acceptability. Any particular tactic could be placed on this dimension, from extreme social acceptability (smiling, asking the prospect what he or she prefers, giving logical reasons to persuade the prospect) to extreme social unacceptability (throwing a tantrum, deceiving the prospect, issuing a threat). An example of an influence cluster might be the constellation of tactics that revolve around the human desire to be psychologically consistent. So, tactics utilizing cognitive dissonance, foot-in-the-door, and public pledges could be grouped together because they tap a common psychology. Examples of three specific tactics would be: a hint, a demonstration of knowledge, or positive altercasting. Each individual tactic is distinctive in how, why, and under what conditions it works.
So, the question "How many tactics are there?" is like asking how many branches are on a tree it depends where you take your cross section. You could look at the trunk and say there's basically one big branch. Or you could choose a spot half way up the tree and count a number of large branches. Or you could climb to the top of the tree and count hundreds of twigs.
To make the question even more difficult to answer, different researchers have used a variety of techniques and analyses to arrive at their various lists. One of the main differences is between researchers who have used inductive vs. deductive approaches to derive lists. Those using inductive approaches ask groups of people to generate answers to questions such as, "How do you get your way?" Then they sort those answers into categories. Researchers using deductive approaches give a list of influence tactics (derived from theory) to people and ask them to sort them into similar categories. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. And, as you might imagine, different researchers get different lists, each seeing the wisdom of their own. Some are aggressively promoted as definitive lists; others are buried in the literature, waiting for the patient researcher to find them.
Here's a list I've compiled of some researchers who have tried to answer the question, "How many influence dimensions (or clusters, tactics, families, principles, strategies, categories, etc.) are there?" It is far from comprehensive, but it will give you a sense of the many ways that influence tactics can be divided, and how many people are trying to answer the question poised above:
You may notice the name of yours truly at the bottom of this list. Yes, I think I've located over 160 different tactics, which makes me a "twigs" type of researcher. That's not to say I don't find both dimension (trunk) and cluster (branch) taxonomies informative; I do. But since my focus is on the use of influence tactics rather than on their categorization, I find the "twigs" perspective helpful when applying influence tools to real world situations. Given two tactics that belong to the same family or to the same end of a dimension, one might be very useful and the other completely inappropriate for a particular situation. That's what makes me consider tactics separately when applying them.
Recently, there has been a backlash against attempts to define taxonomies of influence tactics. The criticisms stem from the methodology used to derive the lists and the non-theoretical nature of the lists that result. How do you know, for example, when your list (of dimensions, clusters, or tactics) is a comprehensive one? Are your categories distinct, or correlated? If you used average people to help you create your list, can you rely on data from non-experts? These are the types of questions that cause trouble for researchers trying to create taxonomies of influence tactics.
These objections noted, I'd like to defend the effort to create taxonomies. I believe that attempts to create lists are valuable. The taxonomies may not be "clean" enough for the theoreticians, but it's very useful to have a list for the purposes of planning your influence campaign. You don't want to employ a particular tactic just because your boss happens to think of it, or because someone on your staff used it in a previous campaign and had good luck with it. That's not very reassuring. You want to review your options--and the more comprehensive the list, it seems to me, the better. Sure, this goes against the desire of some people to have the simplest of possible solutions. Who wants to sort through fifty tactics if someone will tell you on good authority that there are only five? But human behavior is complex, and so is the art and science of shaping it. Those who are willing to grapple with the complexities are those who ultimately have the upper hand in controlling human behavior.
See an example of a famous taxonomy: Marwell & Schmitt's List of 16 Tactics . . .
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