Credit and Blame at Work

Exploring the psychological forces at play while you work.

Influence without authority

How can you boost your influence in the workplace?

In the current economic turmoil, one thing has become clear. In an enviroment of cutbacks, downsizing, and restructuring, formal lines of authority and accountability have been seriously disrupted and blurred. Therefore, it's more important than ever to build your ability to "influence without authority", since the people upon whose efforts your success depends may not report to you, or even to anyone at all.

So what are some best practices of cultivating your ability to influence others to be cooperative and collaborative when you do not directly or even indirectly supervise them? In my experience, here are some techniques that work:

- Go out of your way to assist others. If you are viewed as someone who volunteers to do extra work to be helpful to your colleagues, they are much more likely to be motivated to return the favor. Norms of reciprocity have been a universal in human history, across cultures and societies, and even in other species like primates and bats.

- Be transparent about your motivations and overcommunicate. Let others know that what you are asking them to do is in the organization's best interest, not just in your best interest. Therefore, make it clear that working together can accrue to everyone's benefit.

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- Share credit with others. One of the easiest way to eliminate anyone's interest in, or motivation to, assist your by expending "discretionary effort" is to fail to give credit to others for their contributions or accomplishments, or to unduly blame others when things go wrong. The more credit you share, the more you will motivate others to work with you in order to share the benefits of whatever you accomplish together.

- Do not pull rank. One of the worst things you can do in a situation in which you lack authority is to try to pretend that you have authority. Your coworkers will resent your trying to misrepresent yourself and your role vis-a-vis their roles, and will likely try to undermine your efforts.

I look forward to hearing from all of you- what have you seen people do in the current environment that has either enhanced, or limited, their ability to influence others?

Ben Dattner, Ph.D., is a workplace consultant, an industrial and organizational psychologist, and an adjunct professor at New York University.

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