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Social Influence – Part III – How Social Influence can be Applied by a Trainer?

This is the third and the final post in this series on Social Influence.

Our discussion so far tells us about the existence and impact of Social Influence. In a classroom, it can become a debilitating force when exerted by a disruptive participant. It can also alter the behavior of the participants for no “apparent” reason, thus, making it important for the trainer to understand the social under-currents in a classroom to ensure learning effectiveness.

Let us look at the six important factors of SI, once again; and review them from a trainer’s viewpoint.

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

Of the six factors of SI that we learned about through the previous post in this series, Charisma and Reputation reside with the trainer, and the trainer can use them to exert a positive, directional influence on the class. The trainer needs to aware of Manipulation, Peer Pressure, and Emotion, so that he or she may identify their presence in a classroom and take appropriate measures. Authority is a factor that is always present with the trainer, but the trainer needs to use it with care.

Here’s how each of these factors could work in a trainer’s favor.

Charisma:

In the previous post of this series, we discussed the charismatic participant, who automatically begins to exert a certain influence on the other participants in the class. Now, let’s see how charisma becomes a trainer’s ally. If you are already a trainer, chances are, you already possess a certain charisma. This charisma could be a product of your good looks, your quick wit, your body language, your good dress sense, and/or your ability to tastefully and subtly make a statement of affluence.

Hidden in the above statement are clues to enhancing your charisma. If you think that you don’t look good, work on your looks. Reflect upon the possibility of a gym-membership, or a visit to a beauty parlor! If you think you aren’t quick-witted enough, read up anecdotes and practice them upon your unsuspecting relatives. Dress well for your training programs, improve your posture along with rest of your body language, and of course, don’t look like a pauper when you walk into the classroom. You must be a cool dude, who prefers to wear Bermudas and who sports a tattoo on his neck, you might want to wear tee-shirts to the training program – resist your urge. Wear good clothes, sensible shoes, a formal watch; and women trainers, please wear the bare minimum of jewelry – make an impact! Be charismatic!

Reputation:

This is simple to understand, though somewhat difficult to apply. Build your reputation – not so much as a trainer, but as an expert in the area in which you train. For instance, if you are a Communications Trainer, you should be considered an expert in that area. Expertise will help you exert a very strong influence on the class. The cognitive dissonance will be reduced substantially, if not eliminated completely. Your expertise will help you make your training programs more efficient.

If, however, you are not an expert (nor have willingness to become one – especially in the current era of multi-skilling,) bring the “knowledge of experts” to your classroom. Learn about the subject, and what the experts have to say about it. It will lead to similar though not equally strong influence.

Manipulation, Peer Pressure, and Emotion:

I am taking them up together, because I don’t think that a trainer can do a lot with these factors, but I believe that their awareness could help the trainer reduce friction and improve harmony in the classroom.

The first step is, of course, identification.

Try to identify:

  • the possible manipulator.
  • people who’d given to peer-pressure and groupthink.
  • People who might have an emotional connection with one another.

Now,

  • Restrain the manipulator, by taking charge and letting the class realize that your SI is greater than the prospective manipulator’s.
  • Raise the confidence levels of people who might succumb to peer-pressure. Motivate them to ask questions for seeking clarifications.
  • Establish physical distance between people with emotional connections.

Authority:

As a trainer you are always equipped with Authority. Authority is the greatest of influencers. Wars would never be fought if it weren’t for authority, terrorism would vanish from the face of our dear Earth, if not for authority! On the other hand, no organization would be able to create value in the absence of Authority.

Thus, with Authority, the issue has more to with its usage. How should you use the authority that comes with being a trainer?

I’d recommend staying aware of the flip side, and reviewing the feedback to determine whether your authority is being received positively or not.

Authority will make the participants do what you ask them to do (remember the Milgram Experiment?), but whether or not they do it willingly is a question that you need to answer…and then ask yourself, whether unwilling participation is better than willing non-participation!

I guess that there’s a lot a trainer can achieve by understanding and then using Social Influence correctly.

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Social Influence – Part II – Its Manifestation in a Classroom

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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Social Influence – Part 1 – Definition, Explanation, Factors/Forces!

This is a 3-post series on the nature of Social Influence and its impact in a Classroom.

As classroom trainers, we could make our training programs more effective if we could find the answers to questions such as the ones listed below:

  • Why some people become leaders and other followers?
  • Why a bully might be capable of disrupting a classroom full of adult learners?
  • Why it’s difficult to regain lost learner engagement?

There’s a long list of whys that can be answered only if we understand the concept of Social Influence.

So,

What is Social Influence?

Before I fall into the trap of defining it in a crisp and concise way and lose your attention in the process, let me take you on a trip into your past.

  • As a teenaged girl, you wouldn’t step out of your house in something that went out of fashion two years ago.
  • As a teenaged boy, you had to be part of the cool-dude group in your college.
  • As a daughter, you had to comply with your mother’s rules about the time you got home.

These or similar experiences happened because we were “socially influenced” – by the group of girls in the college, by those uber-cool dudes you were friends with, and by your own mother!

Social influence – The Definition:

Thus Social Influence can be understood as the influence that society (social groups, friends, family, and others) exerts either deliberately or unintentionally, and which brings about changes in someone’s behavior.

Social Influence – Factors / Forces:

As it’s clear from the above definition, Social Influence has many dimensions and it factors in different forces.

Some of these forces are:

When we as individuals come across such forces, we change our behavior.  Let us take some examples:

Charisma as a Factor:

A charismatic person (the religious guru, the motivational speaker) might be able to influence our thought process by saying those very things that we’ve been hearing all our lives but never paid heed to.

Authority as a Factor:

Similarly a person who has some kind of authority recognized by the society (a policeman, a teacher, a doctor) can make us do things that we would probably never do if we didn’t know of their authority.

Groupthink as a Factor:

Members of group often begin to accept the majority view (despite their own views being different) because they don’t want a conflict.

Reflect upon the other three factors – it isn’t difficult to see how they influence the behavior of people, all the time:)

I’ll discuss more about these forces and how they manifest themselves in a classroom in my next post. Until then, keep an eye on what’s happening around you. I am confident that you’ll find many examples of social influence strewn around you as you navigate your way through your day.

 

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