An examination of the relationship between upward influence tactics and assessments of promotability

An examination of the relationship between upward influence tactics and assessments of promotability

Rebecca A. Thacker

This study investigates the importance of subordinate influence tactics and individual differences on supervisors’ perceptions of promotability. Influence tactics were assessed by supervisors’ perceptions of subordinate use of three influence tactics (ingratiation, reasoning, and assertiveness), as well as subordinates’ self-reports. The four individual difference variables examined were education, organizational tenure, race, and gender. Results indicated the importance of both influence tactics and individual differences on assessments of promotability.

The use of influence tactics in organizations has received much research attention in recent years (cf. Kipnis, Schmidt & Wilkinson, 1980; Mowday, 1978; Yukl & Falbe, 1990). Few of these studies, however, have examined the effects of influence tactics on individuals’ workplace outcomes. Although Kipnis and Schmidt (1988) investigated the effects of influence tactics on performance ratings, no research has investigated the relationship between influence tactics and promotability. Furthermore, few studies that have examined the effects of influence tactics have controlled for individual differences. For example, individual difference variables that have had an impact on outcomes such as performance ratings and promotability in the past include gender, and human capital variables such as education and organizational tenure. More recent research has included race as an explanatory individual variable (Waldman & Avolio, 1991).

This study investigates the effects of upward influence tactics upon assessments of promotability, while controlling for individual difference variables such as human capital, race, and gender. In addition, this study extends existing knowledge by relying upon supervisors’ perceptions of subordinates’ use of influence tactics as well as subordinates’ self-reports.

The Effects of Influence Tactics on Assessments of Promotability

Although theoretical articles on influence tactics have either explicitly or implicitly suggested that some influence tactics may be more effective than others, few studies have actually examined this major contention. Further, studies have rarely examined the effects of influence tactics on perceptions of promotability. In most organizations, evaluations of promotability are based on supervisors’ assessments. These ratings are subjective and based on supervisors’ perceptions; thus, they are particularly susceptible to influence attempts, A recent framework for understanding the process by which upward influence tactics affect human resource decisions such as evaluations of promotability was proposed by Ferris and Judge (1991). They suggest that an employee’s upward influence behavior affects human resource decisions and actions concerning that employee.

Although a variety of upward influence tactics have been identified in the literature, Kipnis and Schmidt (1985) suggested that these tactics can be grouped into three categories: hard tactics, soft tactics, and rational Persuasion. Hard tactics involve the use of authority and position power, soft tactics rely on personal power, and rational Persuasion relies upon the use of logic. In this study, we examined one tactic from each category: assertiveness (hard), ingratiation (soft), and reasoning (rational persuasion).

Prior research on ingratiation suggests that effective use of this tactic may enhance liking of the target toward the source (e.g., Wayne & Ferris, 1990) and affect performance ratings (Kipnis & Vanderveer, 1971), as well as career success (Judge & Bretz, 1992). Employees who use ingratiation as an influence tactic may also enhance liking of the supervisor toward the employee. Indeed, some have argued that ingratiation is a tactic designed to increase liking (Ralston, 1985; Wortman & Linsenmeier, 1977). Others argue that ingratiatory behaviors fare employed to increase perceived similarity between the source and the target through such tactics as opinion conformity, for example (Byrne & Griffit, 1966). Causal attribution research suggests that the more similar an observer and a subject, the less likely the observer will assign responsibility to the subject for any negative outcomes (Burger, 1981; Shaver, 1970). By extension, ingratiatory tactics that enhance perceived similarity between supervisor and subordinate should increase liking for the subordinate, ultimately resulting in enhanced assessments of promotability.

Reasoning, which consists of providing logical justification for one’s request, may positively influence the supervisor’s assessment of the source’s competence. Villanova and Bernardin (1991) argue that the more relevant and job-related the criteria for evaluating subordinates’ performance, the less likely supervisors will have the means to distort the ratings. To the extent that subordinates wish to create impressions of competence and promotability, reliance upon logic, detail, and information dissemination concerning their performance presents rational, potentially job-related data to their supervisor. Defined information is also less likely to lead to contamination attributable to the supervisor’s personal bias against the subordinate (Cummings & Schwab, 1973), Use of reasoning does not assume that the subordinate is indeed competent; rather, it is an attempt to socially construct reality (Berger & Luckman, 1967) and manage the cognitive processes of the supervisor (Chatman, Bell & Staw, 1986; Ferris & Judge, 1991). In turn, creating impressions of competence may influence job-related outcomes such as performance ratings, perceptions of promotability, or salary. Past research supports this notion. In a recent study, Yukl and Tracey (1992) found that managers’ use of rational persuasion was significantly and positively related to the managers’ effectiveness. Dreher, Dougherty and Whitely (1989) found that rationality was positively related to salary, but only for females. Although there is not a great deal of evidence, existing research supports the hypothesis of a positive relationship between the use of reasoning and assessments of promotability.

Assertiveness, on the other hand, is often viewed as threatening by targets of the influence attempt (Ferris & Judge, 1991). Little empirical evidence exists concerning the relationship between assertiveness and job-related outcomes, and what little evidence we have is inconclusive. However, much of the available evidence suggests that use of assertiveness tactics docs not place the subordinate in a favorable light. For example, previous research suggests that use of an assertiveness strategy that involved challenging the power of the target was unlikely to be successful (Schilit & Locke, 1982). Similarly, an assertiveness tactic that relied on telling or demanding was also unlikely to be successful (Case, Dosier, Murkinson & Keys, 1988).

Regarding job-related outcomes, Dreher et al. (1989) found that assertiveness had no significant effect upon salary. On the other hand, Kipnis and Schmidt (1988) found that those who emphasized the use of assertive tactics had lower salaries than those who did not emphasize such tactics, perhaps because assertiveness involves the use of such strong tactics as ordering and demanding others to do what the user requested. Thus, use of assertiveness may potentially create a perception that the user thinks highly of him/herself, and may be acting inappropriately, much as those who take credit for valued outcomes are viewed as egotistical (Ferris & Judge, 1991; Tedeschi & Melburg, 1984), and suffer lowered performance ratings as a result (Wayne & Ferris, 1990). Although prior research has not explored the potential negative consequences of assertive behavior upon assessments of promotability, the majority of the evidence suggests that assertiveness will have a negative effect upon perceptions of promotability.

In general, these studies point to the need to include influence tactics in a study of assessments of promotability. Much as with performance ratings (e.g., Longenecker, 1989; Longenecker, Sims & Gioia, 1987), assessing promotability is a supervisory decision process that is highly susceptible to subordinates’ active influence attempts. Extending prior research, then, we suggest the following hypotheses:

H1: Ingratiation will be positively related to assessments of


H2: Reasoning will be positively related to assessments of


H3: Assertiveness will be negatively related to assessments of


The Effects of Individual Differences on Assessments of Promotability: Human Capital, Race, and Gender

We also suggest that individual variables will have an effect upon assessments of promotability. For example, human capital theory (Becker, 1965; Polachek, 1975) relates the effect of such individual variables as amount of education and organizational tenure on organizational reward allocation. Human capital variables are powerful explanatory variables, generally explaining 25-45% of the explained variance when regressed upon performance-related decisions such as salary allocation (Corcoran & Duncan, 1979; Sandell & Shapiro, 1978). Previously, education and organizational tenure been found to affect promotions (Stewart & Gudykunst, 1982), and have been used as control variables in studies of promotability (e.g., Bowman, 1964).

Gender is another individual variable shown to have effects upon promotability, although the research evidence concerning the effects of gender on promotion is neither extensive nor consistent in its findings. Previous evidence indicates that females receive fewer promotions than males (Cabrel, Ferber & Green, 1981; Olson & Becker, 1983), while others suggest that, although females receive more promotions than males, they do not advance as far up the organizational hierarchy as do their male cohorts (Stewart & Gudykunst, 1982; Tsui & Gutek, 1984). Although gender has also been found to be an insignificant predictor of promotion potential (London & Stumpf, 1982), the majority of the evidence suggests that perceptions of promotability, like selection and evaluation decisions, are based more on subjective assessments than on competence (Larwood & Blackmore, 1978; Wexley & Pulakos, 1983). Assessments of promotability involve an inference about a subordinate’s future potential, and previous evidence indicates that bias against females exists in performance evaluations requiting the rater to rely upon inference, rather than actual behavior (Nieva & Gutek, 1980). Thus, evidence suggests that females will receive less favorable assessments of promotability than will males.

The number of studies that have examined the relationship between race and perceptions of promotability is also not extensive. Although one study found no differences between white and black MBAs in hierarchical level attained (Cox & Nkomo, 1991), much of extant research suggests that race does affect assessments of promotability. Assessments of blacks’ promotability have been found to be lower than whites’ (Greenhaus, Parasuraman & Wormley, 1990), and, in general, blacks have been found to have fewer promotion opportunities than do whites (Alderfer, Alderfer, Tucker & Tucker, 1980; Braddock & McPartland, 1987). Thus, previous research suggests the importance of including human capital, gender, and race in studies of subjective supervisory decisions such u assessments of promotability. The following hypotheses are also tested in this study:

H4: Human capital (organizational tenure and education) will have

positive effects upon assessments of promotability.

H5: Gender will be significantly related to assessments of

promotability, such that males will be more likely to receive favorable

assessments than will females.

H6: Race will be significantly and negatively related to assessments

of promotability, such that whites will be more likely to receive

favorable assessments than will blacks.

In recent years, research has begun to focus upon building theory in terms of individual attainment in organizations. Evidence indicates that the human capital variables, while providing powerful explanatory predictors, are not alone in their predictive capabilities for cater outcomes. For example, Johnsrud (1991) included organizational structural characteristics to predict outcomes related to promotion. In three studies that included both influence tactics and human capital variables (Dreher et al., 1989; Gould & Penley, 1984; Thacker, in press), the set of explanatory variables that included human capital variables had greater explanatory power (measured by change in [R.sup.2]) than did the set of explanatory variables that included influence tactics (although the set of explanatory variables that included human capital variables included some individual-level variables as well, such as gender and socioeconomic origin). Although the political perspective has received some support (Ferris & Judge, 1991), prior research does not suggest that human resource decisions such as assessments of promotability are completely biased or based solely upon subjective information. Thus, mindful of the suggestion from Ferris and Judge (1991) to bridge the gap between the overly rational point of view (i.e., the human capital perspective) and the political perspective (cf. Bolman & Deal, 1991) in personnel/human resource management research, and relying upon prior research evidence suggesting the powerful explanatory ability of individual variables, particularly human capital, the following hypothesis is tested:

H7: The effect of individual difference variables on assessments of

promotability will be greater than that of influence tactics.

Finally, based upon past research, it was felt necessary to control for job level, an important control variable identified in Whitely, Dougherty, and Dreher’s study (1991) of career progress. Ferris and Judge (1991) suggest that, as individuals ascend the corporate hierarchy, they are more likely to use influence tactics than are those who are at lower organizational levels. In addition, Gould and Penley (1984) found that individuals who were plateaued (i.e., in their position for 7 years or longer) used different career strategies than did nonplateaued employees, suggesting a potential relationship between job level and influence tactics. Job level is, therefore, added as a control variable.


Sample. The study was conducted at a major midwestern university. Participants held a wide range of nonacademic positions such as librarian, secretary, and admissions counselor A total of 157 non-faculty employees consisting of 70 employees and 87 supervisors participated in the study. Seventeen of the 87 supervisors participated even though their subordinates did not. The subordinate sample was comprised of 32 (45.7%) males and 38 (54.3%) females. Average age for the subordinates was 39, the average level of education was a two-year college degree, and average tenure was 7 years and 9 months. The supervisor sample was comprised of 41 (47.1%) males and 46 (52.9%) females. Average age for the supervisors was 45, the average level of education was a 4-year college degree, and average tenure was 11 years and 4 months. Within the subordinate sample, there were 23 (32.9%) blacks and 47 (67.1%) whites. For the supervisors, 20 (23%) were black, 66 (75.9%) were white, and one individual (1.1%) selected the “other” racial category. One supervisor did not complete the age and education items.

Procedure. A stratified random sample of employees and their direct supervisors was sent a copy of the survey, along with letters from the researchers and a top-level university administrator requesting their participation in the study. The sample was stratified according to employee race and gender. Participation in the study was voluntary and confidentiality was assured. The response rate for employees was 60%, and for supervisors, 56%. This study was part of a larger research project examining influence tactics and work outcomes.


Promotability. For promotability, the dependent variable, three items were developed to assess the supervisor’s impressions of the employee in terms of promotability. The items consisted of “I believe that this employee will have a successful career”; “If I had to select a successor for my position, it would be this subordinate”; and, “I believe that this employee has high potential.” Supervisors responded to these items on a 7-point scale with anchors ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The Cronbach alpha reliability estimate for this measure was .82.

Individual Differences. The employees completed a survey that measured demographic variables and background information, including gender, race, education level, and organizational tenure. Gender was coded I for female and 2 for male; race was coded 1 for black and 2 for white. Employees indicated their level of education on a 5-point scale consisting of high school education, associate degree, 4-year college degree, masters degree, and doctorate. Organizational tenure was measured in terms of total number of months employed at the University.

Influence Tactics. The three influence tactics were measured with a modified form of the scale used by Kipnis et al. (1980). The following instrument was used: Profiles of Organizational Influence Strategies (POIS): Influencing your Manager (Form M), (Kipnis & Schmidt, 1982). Subordinates reported the frequency that they had engaged in the influence behaviors. In addition, supervisors reported the frequency that their subordinate had engaged in each influence behavior. The instrument items were reworded for the supervisors’ reports of the subordinates’ influence tactic usage. For example, instead of “I act in a friendly manner toward my manager before making my request,” (subordinate self-report), the item reads, “This employee acts in a friendly manner toward me before making his/her request”. The anchors consisted of “never, seldom, occasionally, frequently, and almost always.” Supervisors (N=87) reported the frequency with which their employees used the influence behaviors on a 5-point scale. The Cronbach alpha reliability estimates were as follows: .63 for ingratiation, .81 for reasoning, and .74 for assertiveness. Subordinates (N=70) also reported the frequency with which they used the influence behaviors, using the same 5-point scale. The Cronbach alpha reliability estimates were as follows: 72 for ingratiation, .77 for reasoning, and .73 for assertiveness. These estimates are similar to those reported by Kipnis et al. (1980).

Job Level. On the questionnaire, respondents were asked to record their job title, which was then coded according to the university classification scheme as follows: 1=management/executive; 2=professional; 3=secretarial/clerical; 4=technical/paraprofessional; 5=skilled trade; 6=service/maintenance. In consultation with a University human resources professional, the 6 categories were collapsed into three as follows: High Level=categories 1 and 2; Medium Level=categories 3 and 4; Low Level=categories 5 and 6. The three variables were used as indicator variables, and dummy-coded, with 1=respondent’s job is in this category, and 0=respondent’s job is not in this category. The reference category is High Level; therefore, High Level is not entered into the regression equations. The effect for the Low and Medium Level variables are interpreted only in comparison to the High Level category.


Analyses were conducted using subordinates’ serf-reports of influence tactics (N=70) and supervisors’ reports of influence tactics (N=87). We will refer to these as “subordinate” and “supervisor” samples. Although the study is concerned with supervisors assessments of subordinates’ promotability, we felt that reporting of the subordinate results provides additional corroborating evidence of the sometimes divergent opinions of raters and rates, and directly addresses the issue of influence tactic usage in performance-related outcomes. Thus, analyses using subordinate and supervisor perceptions of influence tactics are reported separately.

To investigate the possibility of common-method variance, Harman’s single-factor test (for an explanation of this method, see Podsakoff & Organ, 1986) was conducted for both supervisor and subordinate responses. Keeping in mind that the test becomes less conservative as the number of variables increases, the basic point of the test is that if only a single factor is extracted, or if the majority of the covariance between independent and dependent variables is accounted for by one factor, common method variance should be a concern. Results of the single-factor test mitigated concerns about monomethod bias in this study. For the subordinate sample, 5 factors with eigenvalues ranging from 1.33 to 4.75 were extracted. Percentages of variance for the five factors ranged from 7% to 25%, and accounted for a total of 68% of the variance. For the supervisor sample, 6 factors with eigenvalues ranging from 1.00 to 3.86 were extracted. Percentages of variance for the 6 factors ranged from 5.2% to 20.3%, and accounted for a total of 69.7% of the variance.

Means, standard deviations, and correlations for all variables included in the analyses for both the supervisor and the subordinate samples are presented in Table 1.

Table 1(a). Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations for Supervisor(b) and Subordinate(c) Samples

Variable Mean S.D. 1 2 3

1. Gender — —

2. Race — — 20(d)


3. Educational 3.10 1.42 -10 -14

Level 3.16 1.40 02 -10

4. Org. Tenure 95.36 71.39 -11 15 01

94.86 71.69 -10 10 06

5. Ingratiation 2.57 .67 -05 -01 21(*)

2.60 .81 -05 -12 13

6. Reasoning 2.92 .96 -06 -14 39(**)

3.35 .95 01 03 47(**)

7. Assertiveness 1.80 .63 08 16 -06

1.71 .63 -00 06 29(*)

8. Low Job Level — — 47(**) 08 -54(**)

39(**) 03 -47(**)

9. Medium Job — — -40(**) -06 -29(**)

Level -33(**) 01 -41(**)

10. High Job Level — — 04 -01 72(**)

04 -03 76(**)

11. Promotability 4.50 1.55 -25(*) -24(*) 33(**)

4.57 1.47 -23 -26(*) 19

Variable 4 5 6 7

1. Gender

2. Race

3. Educational


4. Org. Tenure

5. Ingratiation 24(*)


6. Reasoning 40 42(**)

12 42(**)

7. Assertiveness 27(*) 20 01

06 27(*) 53(**)

8. Low Job Level -07 -10 -28(**) 10

01 00 -17 -17

9. Medium Job -02 -07 -10 -12

Level -08 -10 -34(**) -29(**)

10. High Job Level 07 15 32(**) 04

07 10 47(**) 42(**)

11. Promotability -27(*) -17 23(*) -31(**)

-27(*) -20 -02 00

Variable 8 9 10 11

1. Gender

2. Race

3. Educational


4. Org. Tenure

5. Ingratiation

6. Reasoning

7. Assertiveness

8. Low Job Level

9. Medium Job -41(**)

Level -37(**)

10. High Job Level -38(**) -69(**)

-36(**) -73(**)

11. Promotability -15 -07 18

-09 -08 14


(a.) Subordinate results are in bold, placed underneath the supervisor results.

(b.) N = 87.

(c.) N = 70.

(d.) Decimals are omitted, correlations are rounded to the nearest hundredth.

(*) p < .05; (**) p < .01.

Multiple regression was used to examine the questions of importance. Results are found in Table 2. For the supervisor sample, significant predictors of assessments of promotability are the three influence tactics and gender, educational level, and organizational tenure. For the subordinate sample, significant predictors of the supervisors’ assessments of promotability are ingratiation, gender, and organizational tenure.

Table 2. Results of the Regression Analyses

Beta Standard Error

Supervisor Sample

Ingratiation -.26(**) .10

Reasoning .25(**) .11

Assertiveness -.18(*) .10

Gender -.32(***) .11

Race -.06 .10

Educational Level .38(**) .15

Org. Tenure -.18(*) .10

Low Job Level .26 .16

Medium Job Level -.408E-05 .14

Overall F = 5.30(***)

Adjusted [R.sup.2] = .31

Subordinate Sample

Ingratiation -.26(**) .12

Reasoning -.01 .15

Assertiveness .03 .13

Gender -.33(***) .13

Race -.19 .11

Educational Level .28 .19

Org. Tenure -.29(**) .11

Low Job Level .17 .19

Medium Job Level -.05 .18

Overall F = 2.85(***)

Adjusted [R.sup.2] = .19

Notes: (*) p < .10; (**) p < .05; (***) p <. 01.

Based on the supervisor sample results, H1 was not supported, as ingratiation was significantly but negatively related to promotability. H2 and H3 were fully supported, as reasoning was significantly and positively related to promotability, and assertiveness was significantly and negatively related to promotability. H4 was partially supported, as one of the human capital variables, education, was significantly and positively related to promotability, but tenure was significantly and negatively related to promotability, which was contrary to the hypothesized direction of the relationship. Not supported was H5, as gender was significantly but negatively related to promotability. Females were more likely to receive positive assessments of promotability than were males, contrary to the hypothesis. Given past research evidence suggesting gender-based differences in use of influence tactics (e.g., Dreher et al., 1989), interaction terms for gender by influence tactics were computed and added to the regression equation. Consistent with previous findings (e.g., Judge & Bretz, in press), no significant interactions were found; hence, these results are not reported. The race hypothesis, H6, was not supported, as race was not significantly related to assessments of promotability. Interaction terms for race by influence tactics were also computed and added to the regression equation; however, no significant interactions were found, and the results are not reported.

Consistent with the supervisor sample, subordinate results indicated that ingratiation and organizational tenure were negatively related to assessments of promotability, and gender was negatively related to this outcome. In contrast to the supervisor sample results, reasoning, assertiveness, and education were not related to assessments of promotability for the subordinate sample.

H7 was tested with the supervisor sample. The influence tactics and the individual variables were each removed from the equation as a block, one block at a time, and the change in [R.sup.2] was assessed for that block of variables. As reported in Table 3, H7 was supported, as the change in [R.sup.2] is greater for the individual variables than for the influence tactics. Nonetheless, even when individual differences were controlled, influence tactics retained their significant relationship to assessments of promotability, as evidenced by the significance of the change in [R.sup.2].

Table 3. Results of Test of H7

Supervisor Sample

Source [R.sup.2] Change F Significance of F

Influence Tactics .108 4.50 .006

Individual Variables .164 5.12 .001

Note: Statistics for entire regression equation:

Adjusted [R.sup.2] = .31

F = 5.30

Significance of F = .000

N = 87


Results of this study suggest that future studies of subjective workplace decisions such as assessments of promotability should include both objective as well as subjective predictors. Reliance on either, to the exclusion of the other, may result in incomplete pictures of reality. This study suggests that we can enhance our understanding of how assessments of promotability are derived by examining objective measures of performance as well as subjective, less rational influences upon performance.

Feldman and Klich (1991) suggest that subjective factors consisting of impression management techniques may have more of an effect upon an individual’s promotion and advancement in an organization than objective indicators of performance. While our results did not find that influence tactics have more of an effect on assessments of promotability than objective indicators such as education and tenure, we did find that influence tactics play a significant role in affecting assessments of promotability.

Ingratiation, the soft tactic, was significantly related to supervisors’ perceptions of promotability. Ingratiation had a negative relationship to promotability, which is somewhat inconsistent with previous findings. Previous research suggests that ingratiating influence styles have a positive effect on an individual’s evaluations (Jones, 1964; Wortman & Linsenmeier, 1977), purportedly raising the supervisor’s affect toward the individual (Ferris & Judge, 1991; Judge & Bretz, 1992).

However, alternate explanations for the negative relationship are found in previous research investigating reasons why individuals use ingratiation. Kipnis et al. (1980) found that ingratiation was frequently used when individuals were seeking assistance from the target person. Similarly, Kipnis and Schmidt (1988) found that individuals who scored high on the use of ingratiation reported that they influenced their superior to obtain personal benefits. Thus, supervisors may be interpreting subordinates’ friendly overtures as self-serving attempts to get ahead. Moreover, Baron (1986) argues that influence attempts can have negative results for the user if obvious, or used in an extreme fashion. Subordinate respondents may, then, have been using the tactic ineffectively, perhaps appearing obsequious rather than friendly and likeable. Ultimately, subordinates who use ingratiation, a soft tactic, may be perceived as weak by their supervisors, leading to perceptions that the subordinate is unlikely to succeed at higher levels. Future research is needed to explore these potential explanations.

As reported by the supervisors, assertiveness negatively affected assessments of promotability, as predicted. Interestingly, and as a point of comparison, assertiveness was not a significant predictor of promotability assessments for subordinates’ self-reports of influence tactic usage. A likely interpretation is that assertiveness has an effect upon the supervisor’s affective reaction to the subordinate, although in this case the effective reaction is negative. Affective reaction has previously been shown to be related to subordinates’ performance ratings (Tsui & Barry, 1986; Wayne & Ferris, 1990). From this perspective, then, the assertiveness findings support the contention of DeNisi and Williams (1988), who argue that performance-related information is processed not as an entirely objective process, but rather, one that is infiltrated by subjective reactions to the subordinate. Keeping in mind that the present study did not measure affect or liking, but only suggests that affect may moderate the relationship between influence tactic usage and assessments of promotability, a suggestion for future research is then to explore this relationship further.

Perhaps the most potent means subordinates have for influencing impressions of their promotability is through the use of reasoning. Results indicate that reasoning was significant, and positive in its effect upon supervisors’ assessments of subordinates’ promotability. Two potential explanations, operating either singly or in tandem, explain this finding. First, considering the information processing literature, subordinates may be providing information that appears, at least on the surface, to be objective, and therefore not as prone to perceptual distortion. Detailed action plans, logical arguments, facts, figures, and careful explanations may serve to guide the supervisor’s cognitive processes in a positive manner, a suggestion that would likely be supported by those who suggest such a manifestation in performance appraisal processes (e.g., Villanova & Bernardin, 1991; Cummings & Schwab, 1973). Secondly, some of this effect may be artifactual in nature (although certainly not all, given past research evidence suggesting positive relationships between reasoning and effectiveness, for example, Yukl & Tracey, 1992), as the University at the time was embarking upon a state-enforced budget-cutting process. The threat of lay-offs may have focused supervisors’ attention on justifiable reasons for performance-related decisions, such as promotions.

In summary, results suggest that influence tactics have an effect upon assessments of promotability, and that only those capable of subtle manipulation should employ ingratiation, the soft tactic, when trying to manage impressions of competence. As a hard tactic, assertiveness is a risky tactic at best, and use of reasoning, relying as it does upon rational persuasion, is likely to have significant and positive benefits upon the subordinates’ chances for promotion.

Finally, as a cautionary note, the inconsistent findings between supervisor and subordinate results underscore the presence of the perceptual distortion that invades the cognitive processes of work-related decisions. In the final analysis, subordinates are not always accurate judges of their own influence behaviors simply because using influence behaviors can have unintended effects upon the target. For example, while subordinates may perceive assertive behavior as a display of competence or self-confidence, supervisors may interpret it differently, perhaps as an obvious attempt at control. Obvious attempts at influence often backfire (Baron, 1986). By the same token, supervisors’ reports of subordinates’ influence attempts are also prone to bias. The mere fact of having to deal with an assertive subordinate may bias a supervisor’s report of a subordinate’s influence attempt, regardless of the supervisor’s characterization of the influence tactic employed.

The information processing literature, while certainly not explaining the particular inconsistencies found between supervisor and subordinate samples in this study, nonetheless supports the existence of such inconsistencies. Because of the perceptual distortions inherent in the sending and receiving of influence attempts, we cannot say whether the subordinate or the supervisor is the more accurate judge of the subordinate’s influence attempt. Hence, this study’s results underscore the importance of analyzing supervisors’ perceptions when studying work-related outcomes, most particularly assessments of promotability, as it is the supervisor’s perception that drives the assessment process. Implications from this study’s findings should, then, be read with this point in mind.


The findings from this study have implications for career planning programs. As discussed in Judge and Bretz (1992), career planning systems are often presented as rational; that is, to improve career success, individuals should enhance skills, knowledge, and abilities needed to advance to desired positions (Barr, 1980; London & Stumpf, 1982). Employees who accept this overly rational perspective of career planning may become frustrated at their relative lack of success, as they will be neglecting the use of a powerful tool for advancing their career, such as influence tactics (Judge & Bretz, 1992). Indeed, prior research suggests that effectiveness in influencing people is critical to managerial success (cf. Bass, 1990; Yukl, 1990).

Another noteworthy conclusion from the study is that, when investigating performance outcomes, researchers should control for individual difference variables. In this study, gender had a significant effect upon promotability. Females were more likely than males to be perceived as promotable. A strong affirmative action program, a separate affirmative action department, and monitoring of performance appraisals by the human resources department may be doing much to ensure the promotion of females in the study organization, while having the opposite effects for males. In addition, the University was under scrutiny by the state legislature for underrepresentation of females and minorities in higher-level positions. These factors may serve to explain the gender effect.

Two of the human capital variables, education and organizational tenure, were significant predictors of promotability. Education generally has a positive effect on measures of career success; hence, our finding is consistent with prior research. However, the study did not control for quality of education. Perhaps there is a systematic difference in quality of education between males and females, which could partially explain the gender effect. (Note: We tested for significant interactions between race and gender and the human capital variables; none were found). An alternative explanation is that, given the University’s strong affirmative action program, males may perceive that their promotional opportunities are restricted and engage in self-limiting perceptual processes.

Tenure was significantly and negatively related to assessments of promotability, despite controlling for job level. An explanation for this finding is that as individuals move up the organizational hierarchy, fewer promotional opportunities exist. As individuals’ tenure with the organization increases, promotional opportunities are likely to decrease. Another potential explanation is that individuals with long organizational tenure may have come to believe that their skills are not transferable to the private sector, which often offers higher rates of pay. Therefore, individuals with longer tenure may be bypassing career, enhancing opportunities, having given up hope of monetarily-rewarding career changes. Ultimately, their “career-satisficing” strategy is communicated to supervisors and affects perceptions of their promotability. Such findings suggest that career-enhancement training programs should discuss the accumulation of human capital and its effects upon not only career-enhancement, but supervisors’ perceptions of promotability as well.

Strengths, Limitations, and Suggestions for Future Research

One of the strengths of this study is that both subjective and objective influences upon promotability were combined in one predictive model, enabling us to make statements about the distinct, as well as the relative, effects of both upon assessments of promotability. Research has yet to combine both sets of variables in one study with assessments of promotability as the performance-related outcome. A second strength is that, because we were measuring supervisors’ perceptions of tactics used, rather than relying solely upon self-reports of the subordinate, social desirability biases were overcome. Moreover, we felt that we received a more accurate estimation of supervisors’ interpretations of subordinates’ influence tactic usage than would have been the case if we had relied solely upon subordinate self-reports. The divergent results concerning significant predictors reinforce the importance of collecting both target and source data when investigating influence tactic usage and consequences.

On the other hand, a limitation as far as interpreting results, as well as a suggestion for future research, concerns the use of self-promotion tactics. Self-promotion was not included in this study, as this study examined only influence tactics and did not include self-focused tactics (cf. Wayne & Ferris, 1990). Self-promotion has previously been shown to have a negative influence upon affect (Ferris & Judge, 1991; Ferris, Judge, Rowland & Fitzgibbons, 1994). Thus, inclusion of self-promotion tactics in future studies may help to explain ingratiation’s negative sign, as their inclusion would differentiate the effects of ingratiation and self-promotion tactics upon supervisory affect.

A potential limitation is the possibility of common method variance problems for the supervisor sample, as both the measures of promotability and subordinate use of influence tactics were collected from the same questionnaire instrument, although use of Harman’s one-factor test (Podsakoff & Organ, 1986) mitigated this concern. It is also possible that the causal ordering of the events under study is the reverse of that tested; in other words, supervisors may allow their assessment of a subordinate’s promotability to influence their perceptions of the subordinate’s use of influence tactics. Longitudinal research is needed to explore the direction of causality between influence tactics and perceptions of promotability.

A potential weakness concerns the generalizability of the findings to private, for-profit organizations, although some of the differences between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations were diminished in this study. The research organization, like many private sector organizations, was dealing with budget cutbacks and layoffs at the time of the study. No salary increases were granted during the study year, minimizing the possibility that promotability assessments would be inflated for salary increase purposes. Certainly the economic situation of the time affected the climate, culture, and norms of the organization, which, in turn, could affect the generalizability of this study’s findings. Nonetheless, given the similarity of the organization’s economic situation (e.g., budget cutbacks, employee layoffs) to the American workplace in general, generalizability becomes somewhat less problematic.

Future research should investigate the effectiveness of combinations of tactics upon assessments of promotability. For example, Falbe and Yukl (1992) found that a combination of soft and rational tactics was more effective than when each was used independently. Similarly, Case et al. (1988) found that two tactics used in combination were more effective than single tactic usage. It is probable that the effectiveness of different combinations of tactics will depend upon the outcome desired, as well as the target of the influence. Future research should investigate these relationships.

Another interesting extension of this research would be to investigate the use of influence tactics, either singly or in combination, by individuals at the highest levels of the organization. An investigation of influence tactic “norms” could shed light upon career progression of managers in the organization. For example, are the managers who receive frequent promotions using the same influence tactics that top managers use effectively? Such an investigation could contribute much to an investigation of the “glass ceiling” in organizations.

Although liking was not measured in this study, a logical inference from this study’s results is that liking is an important intervening variable that should be included in future studies of influence tactics usage and assessments of promotability. Similarly, as indicated by Ferris et al. (1994), the effect of influence tactic usage on both the cognitive and affective components of supervisors’ information processing needs to be better understood. For example, does reasoning influence the cognitive component of promotability assessment, and does ingratiation influence the affective component? Better insight into these issues would greatly enhance our understanding not only of assessments of promotability, but other performance-related outcomes as well.

Finally, more research is needed in studying qualitative differences in human capital accumulation (e.g., quality of education) and how such differences affect individuals’ use of influence tactics. Interaction effects between human capital variables and influence tactics were estimated in this study, and none were found. Although no significant interactions between human capital and influence tactics were found in this study, only amounts, not quality, of human capital were tested. The possibility exists that individuals who perceive that the quality of their education is lower relative to others’ may compensate for such perceived deficiencies by overt use of tactics such as ingratiation.

In conclusion, influence tactics deserve more attention concerning their effects upon workplace outcomes that are particularly susceptible to influence attempts, such as assessments of promotability. Results of this study suggest that neither influence tactics nor individual difference variables should be ignored when explaining workplace outcomes such as promotion decisions. By increasing our understanding of the effects of influence tactics and individual differences upon promotion decisions, organizations will be in a better position to ensure fair and equitable human resources decisions.

Acknowledgment: The authors would like to acknowledge the helpful comments of Timothy A. Judge, Stuart A. Youngblood, and an anonymous reviewer.


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Direct all correspondence to: Rebecca A. Thacker, Ohio University, College of Business, Copeland Hall, Athens, OH 45701.

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