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Why Freedom is Key to Influence and Motivation

        posted by , February 16, 2013

Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you.

~ Jean-Paul Sartre
People value freedom like a fish values water.

If you'd like to influence decision makers, manage your employees or sell to your customers by restricting their freedom — you should consider a little thing called reactance.

Definition: Reactance

Reactance is a reaction to offers, persons or rules that restrict an individual's freedom. This reaction involves doing the opposite of what the rule, offer or person intends.

Reactance is a counterforce that's motivated by fear of loosing freedoms.


Reactance is considered a nearly universal human tendency. It's a coping strategy to deal with attempts at taking away a person's choices.

Example: Reactance

The classic example of reactance goes something like this:

A father picks his daughter up from school. She's talking to a boy from her class.

The father asks if she's friends with the boy. The daughter says no. The father says, "good, you're not allowed to talk to that boy".

The next week the daughter is dating the boy.



Reactance & Management

Accept the fact that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer.
~ Peter Drucker
Reactance is considered a significant factor in employee behavior.

Managers who consult their teams on major decisions find that teams are more supportive of tasks and initiatives. Managers who push unpopular approaches with no consultation with employees may encounter resistance.

In many cases, resistance may be secretive, difficult to detect and destructive.

Example: Projects & Reactance

The CEO of a mid-sized IT consulting company in Texas decides to implement a new CRM system. He selects a product without consulting the Head of Sales or the CIO.

Both the Head of Sales and the CIO feel that they should have had freedom to select the product themselves. Both feel that they should have at least been consulted.

The CEO commands the Head of Sales and CIO to prioritize implementation of the new system.

The Head of Sales assigns junior staff to give requirements for the system in an attempt to sabotage the project.

The CIO also sabotages the project by selecting an incompetent vendor to implement the system.



Reactance & Negotiating

Skilled negotiators will push the other side towards a set of options. It's well known that pushing the other side in negotiations into a corner tends to backfire.

Reverse Psychology

Reactance is the basis for Reverse Psychology.

Reverse Psychology is an influencing tactic. It involves pushing someone to take an option that's the opposite of the option you want them to take.

It's generally considered an unethical tactic (e.g. deceitful).


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