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Social Influence – Part II – Its Manifestation in a Classroom

28 Oct

This is the second post in this series on Social Influence and its manifestation and application in a classroom.

As trainers, it’s important for us to understand how Social Influence impacts a training program. The six main factors of Social Influence can easily be traced in the behavior of the students or trainees in any classroom.

Let us discuss the presence of the following six SI factors, in a classroom.

  • Charisma
  • Reputation
  • Manipulation
  • Peer Pressure
  • Emotion
  • Authority

Charisma:

It is an accepted fact that some individuals are more charismatic than others, which means that they are better endowed in terms of looks, personality, and/or wealth.  Some participants come into a training program with one or more inherent advantages or Charisma. For instance, a beautiful woman or a handsome man, with automatically become an Influencer. Similarly, a woman who walks in carrying a Gucci handbag, or a man who strides in wearing a Rolex watch or dangling a BMW key; would automatically exert an influence on other not-so-charismatic participants.

In case of a disruption of training, a role-play, or even a question-answer session, others will expect such individuals to lead, and will sub-consciously follow them.

Reputation:

Reputation isn’t a natural advantage – it’s more of a man-made one. A person may have a reputation that others in the classroom are aware of – and it might put him in the shoes of an Influencer. Thus, a “perceived” expert could easily influence others into accepting something completely incorrect.  For example, in an open training program attended by participants from different organizations, an employee of a bigger and more respectable company will be able to exert considerable influence over participants who work for lesser known organizations.

As a trainer, you should try to identify such Influencers even before you step into the classroom.

Manipulation:

In short training programs that address a diverse audience, manipulation might be completely absent; however, in longer duration training programs, or programs that address a group where people have known one-another for long, could fall prey to this SI factor. Manipulation requires a manipulator (a good non-training example is the typical politician.) A manipulator would have a way with words. He or she would influence others in the class with a definite purpose. (for example, to become the teacher’s pet/ to become the class-bully / to have fun on the trainer’s expense…and so on.)

Manipulators are difficult to identify, and when identified, they’d be difficult to manage.

Peer Pressure:

This factor is often seen either in long-duration programs, or in programs attended by participants who know one-another well. Peer Pressure or groupthink has a negative impact on the learning of the entire group, because it makes everyone think in the same direction – it takes an unhealthy toll on critical thinking, and leads to unquestioned acceptance of the group’s ideas.

In most classrooms, Peer Pressure is easy to identify.

Emotion:

Emotion is a very strong Social Influence Factor, in general. In training programs, you often don’t see this factor in its full glory. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness it a couple of times – once when a couple decided to take a course that I teach and then when two people in one of my courses, fell in love. These two participants would usually support each other’s answers to my questions. In the group activities, I’d put them in separate groups (to ensure that their emotions didn’t disrupt their learning,) but even then they’d try their best not to contradict each other.

A General Note Here:

If we look at the world history, it’s easy to see how love can make a couple take a stance against their entire community. Though their impact is considerably more dilute, yet, friendships, even belonging to a temporary group, can all lead to some degree of social influence.  Look for it.

Authority:

Authority is the factor that I am sure, requires the least amount of explanation. If you haven’t read about The Milgram experiment and Agentic State Theory, you should, because they explain the impact of authority extremely well.

Essentially, the Social Influence of Authority is absolute. Once someone’s been given the authority to do something, or get something done – people seldom question it (though there’s no physical barrier stopping them from questioning the authority.) I’ve seen this SI factor at play in one of my recent training programs, which was attended by young instructional designers along with their content head. In one of the discussion, some of the participants deviated from the guidelines. I had noted the deviation and was about the intervene, when the content head raised one of her eyebrows and looked at the errant participants – the discussion immediately moved back to track.

Authority works like nothing else does!

In my third and final post in this series, we’ll learn how trainers can use this knowledge of Social Influence to improve the effectiveness of their training programs.

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