Reward Power refers to the ability to deliver rewards or benefits to influence others. These can be financial, material, or psychological rewards. Reward Power is the fastest way to persuade.
This power is the opposite of Coercive Power. With Coercive Power you punish, and with Reward power you offer incentives. Reward Power is based on utility, which is an understanding that in every transaction there is a potential for exchange. Basically, utility power recognizes that there is always something I want and something you want. We can meet each other’s needs by swapping what we have for what the other wants. Prizes are a form of utility power. They are a way to reward people for doing what you want them to do. The reward becomes the incentive for compliant action. Examples of utilities include sales bonuses, paychecks, incentive clauses on contracts, bonus miles on airlines, and bonus points on credit cards.
It is important to understand some incentives will work well with one person, but not with another. To some people, money is the reward. Still to others, recognition is the reward. As a persuader, you need to find the motivating force or reward for each person you work with – you must understand the desires of the person or group. Reward Power is extremely effective in changing human behavior and in increasing your ability to persuade. You get what you want with minimal effort. Let’s face it – everyone has their price.
There are several inefficiencies to note, however, when using rewards. First of all, the law of diminishing returns quickly takes over when you employ this type of power. Diminishing return means the more you use the reward, the less powerful it becomes. When people become accustomed to an incentive, they can become bored with it and either expect more or drop performance standards if the incentive is removed. One example is the common practice of offering children rewards for reading in elementary school. They win pizza or other prizes after they have read a certain number of books. These incentives often backfire because many of the children think they need a reward to read. Reward Power ultimately leads to the desired outcome, but the incentive generally has to be repeated each time to get that desired outcome. The reward is only effective as long as the person doesn’t see a “better deal.” Your incentive will always be compared to the next person’s offer. Rewards reinforce behavior, so as long as you are employing them, expect your prospects to keep demanding them.
Reinforcement Theory has a lot to do with Reward Power and Coercive Power. Basically, if a person knows a positive consequence will follow a certain action, then they will perform that action. Consequences influence behavior. The type of consequence involved influences what actions people will take and what actions they will avoid. There are three main rules of consequence. They are:
(1) Consequences giving rewards increase behavior.
(2) Consequences giving punishments decrease behavior.
(3) Consequences giving neither rewards nor punishments extinguish behavior.
Remembering these basic rules can be an excellent guide for deciding what to do in certain situations, depending on the desired outcome. Just be sure you take into account some of the Reinforcement Theory’s limitations. Some examples of such limitations are listed below.
Limitations of Reinforcement Theory
1. What is considered reward or punishment will vary according to who you’re working with and what the exact circumstances are.
2. As mentioned earlier, rewards can lose value over time. Instead of feeling rewarded, the person will feel like you owe her something.
3. Other sources of reward or punishment may interfere. For example, an employee may value the reward of esteem and friendship from other less productive employees more than what you have to offer.
4. If a person is just responding to a reward, then there has not really been an internal change. They will revert back to their old behavior if the reward doesn’t remain part of the new routine.
5. Punishment is difficult to deliver well. It is a powerful tool, but it must be executed appropriately. Punishment must have the following elements to be effective: a) immediate, b) strong or firm, c) unavoidable, and d) consistent.
6. Punishment can breed anger, fear, and hopelessness. These negative emotions will be associated with the person inflicting the punishment.
The challenge you face when using rewards is the decrease in internal motivation. Once you condition them to expect something for their compliance, your prospects will always seek external rewards for their behavior. This causes them to do it only for the reward and not for any other reason. We have found that even if the person was willing to exhibit the desired behavior without the reward, once the reward was given the subject would not perform the desired behavior without the reward. An experiment proved this concept. Subjects, sitting together at a table, worked on a puzzle for a half an hour.
After the half hour was up, the experimenter told the subjects the solving session was over and they had to leave the room. The experimenters then began to monitor the behavior of the subjects when they went into the waiting room. What would they do during their free time? Would they play with the puzzles? Would they choose other activities? They study found that those subjects that were paid for doing the puzzles were far less likely to play with them for fun during their free time in the waiting room. And those who did not receive an external reward for their efforts were far more likely to play with the puzzles during their free time in the waiting room. Persuaders know that a behavior chosen out of free will last longer than a behavior rewarded by an external reward.
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