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Hard Tactics, Soft Tactics

Organisational scholars have studied a series of effective tactics that people use to convince others. Most of these different tactics can be put into two categories: hard and soft.

Hard tactics

Hard tactics threaten the autonomy of the target, they attempt to get someone to think or do something specific by metaphorically pushing them in that direction. These tactics include: making reference to formal authority: “I am your boss and my role was to set your job responsibilities!”, “Hey, you have to do this or else!”

As you can see these play out in parent-child relationships with phrases like “Do it because I told you so!”, “This is what you must do!” or “If you don’t get moving right now I’m taking away your cell phone for a week!” And, let me tell you a story of a hard tactic used in a work setting.

Imagine Bob as a team leader trying to motivate his team to work hard to meet a project deadline. He wants to influence them to stay late and work all night to get details right. Here is one effort using a hard tactic: “Team, this is it! We’ve got to get this project done by tomorrow! I’ll be here all night and if I’m here you will be to. I will hear another word about it! let’s get to work!” 

That’s the hard tactical pressure and I’ve seen it used quite a few times. Somebody yelling seems to fit that category! Doesn’t it?

Soft tactics

But, let’s contrast that with a soft tactic. Soft tactics support the autonomy of the target attempt to get someone to think or act in a certain way by making that alternative more appealing than others. These tactics include: attempting to persuade with reason or emotion, saying nice things about the person we call ingratiation or offering something in exchange.

Let’s see to what a soft tactic would is like. Imagine a different team leader, Pat, in the same situation I used before. “Team this is it! We’ve got to get this project done by tomorrow! Now, I know how tough overtime can be on you and your family! we all have important commitments outside this room, but if we all work together we can win this one! let’s do it and make each other proud!”

Pat’s effort to persuade relies on inspiration. Just listening to somebody like this you feel a whole lot better about the idea of working late.


A few studies help identify outcomes of hard and soft tactics, but what are the possible outcomes of an influence attempt?

1. commitment – that’s usually the desired goal. Commitment is when someone agrees with you and becomes convinced that what you’re proposing is right way to go
your target commits to think or act the way you intend.

2. compliance – this is usually acceptable but less than ideal. Compliance is when someone agrees for the sake of agreeing and they’ll do what’s being asked but certainly not with enthusiasm. The problem here is to really haven’t convinced the target and once the winds blow in a different way you may not get what you want any longer.

3. conflict – is really a failure of influence. That’s generally the opposite of what you hope to achieve. Rather than getting the desired thought or behaviour you get a fight.

So, the question is what tactics do people generally use at work and which tactics do they generally prefer to see used on them at work, but also what tactics generally lead to commitment, compliance and conflict.