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Employees at all organizational levels have influence over their subordinates, their colleagues, and even their bosses. But are they aware of this influence? We present evidence suggesting that employees are constrained by cognitive biases that lead them to underestimate their influence over others in the workplace. As a result of this underestimation of influence, employees may be reluctant to spearhead organizational change, discount their own role in subordinates’ performance failures, and fail to speak up in the face of wrongdoing. In addition to reviewing evidence for this bias, we propose five moderators that, when present, may reverse or attenuate the underestimation effect (namely, comparative judgments, the objectification or dehumanization of an influence target, the actual degree of influence any one influencer has, the means of influence, and culture). Finally, we offer some practical solutions to help employees more fully recognize their influence over other members of the organization.


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© Elsevier. Final version published as: Bohns, V. K., & Flynn, F. J. (2013). Underestimating our influence over others at work. Research in Organizational Behavior, 33, 97-112. doi:10.1016/j.riob.2013.10.002
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Suggested Citation
Bohns, V. K., & Flynn, F. J. (2013). Underestimating our influence over others at work [Electronic version]. Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site: