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Chapter 4

Expressive Influence:

Sending Ideas And Generating Energy

The Purpose of Expressive Influence

Expressive influence sends your ideas and energy out to others. Many people think of influence as primarily an expressive activity - one in which they are continually sending ideas and information toward others. In fact, effective influence requires a balance of expressive and receptive activity, as does any form of communication.

Too many people overuse or misuse expressive influence. You have probably been in meetings where long-windedness, repetitiveness, and an excruciating level of detail caused you to leave the room mentally or physically without absorbing or being influenced by a single idea. In these "meetings from hell," there was probably little or no opportunity to ask a question or make a comment that might have sparked a productive discussion. Often, the speaker involved in such a meeting is unaware of his or her impact (or lack of it) because he or she is focused internally on what to say next, rather than attending to whether or not the current words are having an impact.

On the other hand, you may have had the good fortune to listen to someone who stimulated your thinking with an exciting idea, changed your mind through an excellent argument, made you an offer you didn't want to refuse, or inspired you to believe that you could accomplish great things.

Expressive influence, used effectively, can lead people to action. It is especially effective when people are uncertain about what to do and have respect for and trust in the person who is influencing. The use of expressive influence can communicate to others that you mean business and are to be taken seriously. It allows you to communicate your enthusiasm for an idea or belief and exhort others to share it.

The Expressive Behaviors

Figure 4.1 shows the specific tactics and behaviors associated with expressive influence. The expressive tactics in this model are named according to what they are intended to do. They include tell, sell, negotiate, and enlist.

Figure 4.1.     Expressive Influence Tactics and Behaviors

1. You can tell by making a suggestion or by expressing your needs.

2. You can sell by offering reasons or by referring to shared values and goals.

3. You can negotiate by offering incentives or by describing consequences.

4. You can enlist by envisioning a desired future or by encouraging the other person to join you.

How Expressive Behaviors Work

Nonverbal Components of Expressive Behaviors

Expressive gestures, at least in Western cultures, are confident, free, and direct (although pointing your finger at someone while speaking will be perceived as aggressive and should be avoided). Try not to tilt your head; it is a basic mammalian signal indicating, "I acknowledge your superiority." Watch the neighborhood dogs as they work out the hierarchy. We do the same thing, only we are a little subtler about it. Smiling while using tell, sell, or negotiate behaviors can indicate uncertainty and nervousness. Smiling is a natural and appropriate expression of enthusiasm while enlisting. Eye contact should be used carefully with expressive influence. Too much of it may be perceived as challenging and aggressive. Direct eye contact is best used at key points, when you want to add emphasis. The rest of the time, you can look at the other person's forehead or cheekbones. This is polite, but not invasive.

Your posture should be relaxed but erect and balanced. My aikido teacher once pointed out that the Japanese concept of "hara" or center was located in a space about 2 inches below your navel. He said that you should feel your weight centered there. If you are centered in your chest, you will seem aggressive; if in your head, placating. Keep both feet on the floor. (I know your fourth-grade teacher told you this. Do it anyway; it makes you look much more confident. Try it.) Standing up can add to your effectiveness, especially if you are physically smaller than the person or group you are influencing. Using a whiteboard can make this a natural part of the discussion.

Your voice should come from as low as possible in your register; breathing helps. The emotional and vocal tone that works with expressive influence is businesslike and matter-of-fact, unless you are enlisting. Then you will use more colorful language and variable inflection. A sarcastic, negative, or hostile tone is likely to create a defensive reaction in the other person, who will conclude that you are not interested in two-way influence. Ending a sentence with an upward inflection may indicate uncertainty or a lack of confidence in what you are expressing, at least in some societies. This may account for some misunderstandings between Canadians, who often use that inflection conversationally, and other English speakers.

Using Expressive Influence at Work

Expressive influence is particularly useful at work early in a project or process, whether as part of a one-to-one conversation or in a meeting. The most obvious use of expressive behavior at work is simply to let others know what you want or need them to do. A good deal of time could be saved in most organizations if we were clearer with one another about this. Unfortunately, we are often reluctant to ask directly for what we want - sometimes because we are not sure it is legitimate to ask for it, sometimes because we are afraid of a direct "no," sometimes because we don't want the implicit or explicit responsibilities that would accompany an open agreement.

Meetings can be dull and unproductive when participants are unwilling to express opinions and ideas. This may be because of hidden conflict or fear of upsetting the status quo. People are also sometimes afraid to express ideas because of political or cultural concerns about whether they have the right to speak up and whether others will listen. Meetings that are consciously designed to stimulate a balance of expressive and receptive behaviors are most likely to be productive.

Many conflicts in organizations arise because we are not explicit in expressing our needs and then become upset when we don't get what we want. We go away from meetings with an idea of who will do what by when, but then find that others interpreted the agreement differently. We do several favors for a colleague, believing that he or she "owes us one," but when we try to collect a return favor, we find that the other person has been keeping a different set of accounts. We believe strongly in a course of action and are deeply disappointed when we can't convince or inspire others to join us.

All of these issues might have been prevented by the thoughtful use of expressive influence behavior:

Using Expressive Influence at Home

At home, the use of expressive influence is often complicated by the thought, "I shouldn't have to tell him or her that." We sometimes act as though mind-reading is a test of familial devotion. Psychologists have introduced us to the concept of the "double bind." ("I don't want you to clean up your room. I want you to WANT to clean up your room." In a double-bind situation, whichever choice you make is going to be the wrong one. If the child cleans up at the parent's request, that will not meet the parent's need - nor, of course, will ignoring the request.)

Using conscious and effective influence behavior at home is a good antidote to the complexities of family or household communication. A good influence goal has to be observable in the short term, so you know whether you are on the right track or whether it would be better to take another approach. You can hear whether or not your housemate, son, or daughter has committed to clean the room. And you can see quite shortly afterward whether the room is clean (if you don't look in the closets or under the bed). And you will probably learn to be pretty satisfied with that, because it cuts down on a lot of unproductive conflict and aggravation.

Using Expressive Influence in Your Community

In our work in community organizations, we are often sensitive to the fact that people are not being paid to do the work that we want them to do or to take the stand that we wish they would. We may err on the side of vagueness rather than sound as if we are trying to be "the boss." Knowing that the only rewards for work in community service or religious organizations or political action groups are intangible satisfactions and others' appreciation, we tend to "go easy," rather than risk the loss of support and help. This can lead to a lack of energy and direction in the group or organization.

When to Use Expressive Behaviors

As stated earlier, expressive and receptive behaviors work together, not in isolation from one another. Overall, you will strive for a balance of the two. Each kind of behavior has value and accomplishes certain specific results.

In summary, use expressive influence behaviors at work, at home, and in your community when:

Learning to be clear, direct, and straightforward in your expressive influence takes courage and confidence. It is easiest when you have done your homework, considering both facts and legitimate needs. It's also important that you be as prepared to listen respectfully to others' opinions and ideas as you hope they are to listen to yours. In the next chapter, you will learn about the behaviors that will help you to do this.

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