Core Social Motive Two - Understanding (Part Three) - Social Interdependence Theory & Social Exchange Theory

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Core Social Motive Two - Understanding (Part Three) - Social Interdependence Theory & Social Exchange Theory

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Published by Laurence Nicholson in Change · Monday 11 Mar 2024
The Core Social Psychology Motives in Change Management

Core Social Motive Two - Understanding
By Laurence Nicholson

Part Three - Social Interdependence Theory & Social Exchange Theory

(Listen to the Podcast version HERE)

Welcome back to this series on the Core Social Psychology Motives, and to the third part of this discussion around the second core social motive: Understanding.

As usual, let’s remind ourselves what is meant by ‘understanding’ in the sphere of social psychology, and revisit Have, Rijsman, Have and Westhof’s (2019) definition of ‘the need for shared meaning and prediction’.

How individuals, both on their own and indeed as a group, perceive the relatedness of their goals, will heavily influence their view of the dynamics between each other; are they in competition or cooperation? This is the concept of social interdependence theory.

In 1989 and 2007, Johnson & Johnson commented that social interdependence exists when the accomplishment of every individual’s goals is affected by others’ actions. Conversely, there is no interdependence if they believe others’ goal achievements cannot, or do not, affect their ability to achieve their own goals; basically they don’t need (depend on) others to achieve their goals, to be successful themselves.

Deutsch (2012) likened such cooperation and competition to a positive and negative interdependence, pointing out that when you are positively linked to others, depending on their success for your own, you essentially rise or fall together. Naturally, this extends to if being negatively linked (i.e. depending on their failure for your success) if they fall, you rise, and if they rise, you fall.

Now, due to varying motivations and abilities, actions (not goals) relating to interdependence, can be either effective or destructive (deliberate or unconscious) in nature, with the former improving likelihood of success and the latter, not.

When considering both goal and action interdependence, they can impact a number of basic social psychological processes; inducibility, cathexis and substitutability.

Inducibility is about the readiness to accept another person’s influence to do what that person wants, essentially being willing to take part in actions that are helpful. It is associated to substitutability, which allows you to accept the others’ actions to fulfil your own wants and needs.

Cathexis, however is evaluative in nature. It talks to our predisposition to respond positively or negatively to aspects of our self or our environment, effectively directing us to support beneficial actions and distance ourselves from harmful ones; important when thinking about engendering support for changes we want to make.

In the environment of organisation and change, there are many proponents of both competition and cooperation, each believing there choice is more effective within society and the workplace at achieving goals, and whilst support and consensus is increasing for cooperative goal structures (Kistruck, 2016), it is still going to be a balance depending on the particular area of focus; positive competition for promotions, revenue generation techniques and targeted motivation, for example; cooperative approaches for team goals, wider supply chain ecosystem interactions and complex problem solving requiring multiple skill-sets and collaborative execution.

For a business to thrive, both are needed and typically visible. Without competition, stimuli are absent to perform at optimum efficiency and push into the unknown, and without cooperation, organisational functioning and combining team abilities to be greater than the sum of their parts, suffers.

To sum up, ideally, the cooperation within a group that is socially cohesive, to compete against another group(s) to create motivation to excel, provides the best of both worlds, where it is practical. I say practical, because it is not a universal formula; it doesn’t work in organisations such as healthcare.

So, now to social exchange. This is the simple concept of acting in expectation of reciprocity.

At the centre is the psychology suggesting that interactions eliciting others’ approval are more likely to be repeated. A form of conditioning. It even has a formula:
Behaviour (The profit of the interaction) = Rewards of interaction - Costs of interaction
From a social psychology perspective, rewards are wide and varied from social recognition, to monetary compensation or even just a smile. Predictably conversely, the costs are also wide and varied in a similar vein; public humiliation, pay reductions or emotional displeasure and reprimand.

In its simplest form, despite the fact that our brains consider the workplace as a social environment, firing in the same neural areas as social activities, our behaviours are guided by a social transactional continuum, in that we act and expect some form of reciprocity, whatever that may look like. This is, indeed, the same broad foundation that neuroscientific emotionally intelligent communication models such as SCARF (Rock, 2009) are based on; Threat/Reward Responses.

Understanding this, it should be clear from an organisation and change perspective that ensuring appropriate rewards are understood, and threats (costs) are minimised in relation to relationships and activities necessary for successful change.

Michel et al (2009) explain that sufficient participation in planned changes and fair decision-making processes are perceived by employees as a sign of leadership’s appreciation and support, resulting in the employees ‘reciprocating’ with favourable behaviour in support of the organisation and the changes being made.

Well, that’s it for this time. In the next part, we move on to the core motive of ‘Trusting’, and sub elements of trust and attachment theory.


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