The six bases that make influence easier

There are six bases of influence; each base is useful as influence only when it is aligned with the beliefs and perceptions of the person to be influenced.

BY MICHAEL F. BROOM, Ph.D., Organization Development Psychologist

The primary work of leading is influencing others to do what is necessary to accomplish the organization’s goals.

Typically, we talk about influence as getting others to do what we want them to do. Easy to say but not so easy to do. It’s time to develop a deeper understanding of influence:

Let’s start with defining influence. It will tell us why influence isn’t easy. Influence is attaining the agreement of others to comply with our desires. The key word there is “agreement.”

We can only make people do what we want if we have superior physical force. Any leader that must resort to physical force has already lost the day. We cannot control the behavior of others other than attaining their agreement.

But you may ask, “what about how your boss made you rewrite that proposal, or “how did your significant other make you angry?” Such phrases are undoubtedly prevalent in everyday speaking. In either case, you could choose other actions or feelings.

Such phrasing is popular mainly because it relieves us from being responsible for our actions and feelings. It doesn’t take much introspection to see that we’ve had other choices, even when someone made us do something we didn’t want to do.

Let’s talk about why we would choose to do something we don’t want to do. To do that, we’ll explore six bases of influence.

The six bases of influence

We all have uninspected beliefs about when we will allow others to influence us. And it’s corollary how we attempt to influence others. John French and Bertram Raven talk about them as The Bases of Social Power. Each base is useful as influence only when it is aligned with the beliefs and perceptions of the person to be influenced.

  1. Position/Authority–The willingness to comply because of someone’s perceived position. You agreed to stay late and miss the football game because you believe that people in authority know what they are doing and wouldn’t ask you to do something if it wasn’t necessary.
  2. Coercion–The willingness to comply because of a perceived threat of some negative consequence. You rewrote that proposal because you feared your boss’ displeasure.
  3. Reward–The willingness to comply because of the perceived possibility of receiving a reward. The only reason you rewrote that proposal was because you believed it would help get you that raise you want.
  4. Expertise–The willingness to comply from respect for another’s skill or knowledge. You bought the car because your automotive engineer friend said it was the best buy.
  5. Attraction–The willingness to comply because of someone’s…
    1. Reputation or prestige. You voted for the first time because Barack Obama said you must.
    2. Special qualities such as friendliness, intelligence, beauty, composure, or sexuality. You donated to a cause because of the proponent’s deeply spiritual demeanor.
  6. Group Affiliation–The willingness or unwillingness to be influenced by a perceived sense of mutual bond based upon…
    1. A common cause. You volunteer with Habitat for Humanity because their values resonate deeply with yours.
    2. A common group membership. You sometimes put your personal goals aside to help the team succeed.

We rarely know the base someone is using when they comply with something you want. Are they complying because you are an authority figure for them, because they view you as an expert or because they like you? If you would like to know, ask.

Finding out can be useful when you need help getting compliance from someone — no need to explain the bases of influence to them. Simply ask, what could I do or say to get you to comply?

Once they respond, decide if you will comply with their wishes. You are now negotiating a solution that will satisfy you both.

If the negotiation fails and you and the person cannot reach an agreement, it’s time to decide where else you might get the support you need.

This brings us to our final point. The higher the quality of our relationship with someone, the easier it may be to influence them through the bases they respect.

When you want to strengthen the quality of your relationship with someone, here are three things you can do that will help.

Be genuinely curious about their points of view. Be genuinely interested in them and their points of view. Genuinely appreciate whatever they share with you. Pay attention to the word “genuine.” We are all pretty good bulls#@-t detectors.

Finally, allowing someone to influence you easily eases the path to influencing them.

Even with someone you are very close to, they may still choose not to comply. Always remember the following four principles of influence:

The four fundamental principles of influence

  1. We can only influence others if they choose to be influenced through one or more of their bases of bases
  2. Others can only influence us if we choose to be influenced through one or more of our bases of bases
  3. Ease of influence is closely, but never entirely, related to the quality of the relationship with have with the person we want to influence
  4. Allow them influence with you

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of the Center for Human Systems. Check him out on his website at Or email him at if you have any questions about effectively leading or managing change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top