Instrumental needs include needs that help us get things done in our day-to-day lives and achieve short- and long-term goals. We all have short- and long-term goals that we work on every day. Fulfilling these goals is an ongoing communicative task, which means we spend much of our time communicating for instrumental needs. Some common instrumental needs include influencing others, getting information we need, or getting support. Brant R. Burleson, Sandra Metts, and Michael W. Kirch, “Communication in Close Relationships,” in Close Relationships: A Sourcebook, eds. Clyde Hendrick and Susan S. Hendrick (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000), 247. In short, communication that meets our instrumental needs helps us “get things done.”
To meet instrumental needs, we often use communication strategically. Politicians, parents, bosses, and friends use communication to influence others in order to accomplish goals and meet needs. There is a research area within communication that examines compliance-gaining communication, or communication aimed at getting people to do something or act in a particular way. Robert H. Gass and John S. Seiter, Persuasion, Social Influence and Compliance Gaining (Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1999), 205. Compliance gaining and communicating for instrumental needs is different from coercion, which forces or manipulates people into doing what you want. In Section 1.3 "Communication Principles", we will discuss communication ethics and learn that open communication, free from constraint and pressure, is an important part of an ethical society. Compliance-gaining communication is different from persuasion, which we will discuss in more detail in Chapter 11 "Informative and Persuasive Speaking". While research on persuasion typically focuses on public speaking and how a speaker persuades a group, compliance-gaining research focuses on our daily interpersonal interactions. Researchers have identified many tactics that people typically use in compliance-gaining communication. Robert H. Gass and John S. Seiter, Persuasion, Social Influence and Compliance Gaining (Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1999), 206. As you read through the following list, I am sure many of these tactics will be familiar to you.
Common Tactics Used for Compliance Gaining
- Offering rewards. Seeks compliance in a positive way, by promising returns, rewards, or generally positive outcomes.
- Threatening punishment. Seeks compliance in a negative way, by threatening negative consequences such as loss of privileges, grounding, or legal action.
- Using expertise. Seeks compliance by implying that one person “knows better” than the other based on experience, age, education, or intelligence.
- Liking. Seeks compliance by acting friendly and helpful to get the other person into a good mood before asking them to do something.
- Debt. Seeks compliance by calling in past favors and indicating that one person “owes” the other.
- Altruism. Seeks compliance by claiming that one person only wants “what is best” for the other and he or she is looking out for the other person’s “best interests.”
- Esteem. Seeks compliance by claiming that other people will think more highly of the person if he or she complies or think less of the person if he or she does not comply.