The existing literature does not effectively explain the process of ingratiation. Thus, the purpose of this study is to understand the process with social exchange theory. Using an online questionnaire survey, this study interviewed 113 participants from Hong Kong and investigated how ingratiation affects interpersonal relation through the enhancement of interpersonal attraction, exchange of renqing and exchange of mianzi. The results showed that the participants may ingratiate others with five tactics, including self-presentation, conformity, favor-rendering, other-enhancement and modesty. The results also proposed three possible processes of ingratiation: (1) favor-rendering induces exchange of renqing, but exchange of renqing does not impact on interpersonal attraction; (2) all the ingratiation tactics except modesty promote exchange of mianzi, but exchange of mianzi has not influences to interpersonal relation; (3) self-presentation and favor-rendering enhance interpersonal attraction and in turn improve interpersonal relation. It is also suggested that if ingratiation can enhance interpersonal attraction, it will have greater contributions to interpersonal relation.
Keywords: ingratiation, interpersonal attraction, exchange of renqing, exchange of mianzi, interpersonal relation
Scholars have paid less attention to the process of ingratiation. It does not mean they do not indentify the cause and effect of ingratiation. It means that they fail to demonstrate how ingratiation works and operates. To some extent, this problem is caused by the assumption about the nature of ingratiation among the scholars. The scholars have assumed ingratiation as a set of attraction-seeking behaviors, so it can promote interpersonal attraction and in turn affect interpersonal relation (Tsang, 2009a). In fact, this presumption may be wrong. The studies conducted by Tsang (2009a, 2009b, 2014) showed that the ingratiation in Chinese societies may be more than attraction-seeking. In other words, the process of ingratiation may be more complicated than what the scholars have assumed.
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to understand the process of ingratiation with the perspective of social exchange theory. Accordingly, ingratiation will be regarded as a social action of social exchange. This study will focus on the process of ingratiation in Chinese contexts. This is because ingratiation should not only be very common among the Chinese since the cultural values like guanxi (the Chinese concept of interpersonal relation), renqing (the Chinese concept of favor) and mianzi (the Chinese concept of face) (Aryee Debrah & Chay, 1993; Tsang, 2014; Tsang, Ng & Wang, 2013), but also the hypothetic process of Chinese ingratiation proposed by Tsang (2009b, 2014) has not be tested. To achieve the purpose, online questionnaire survey will be used for the investigation.
The Concept of Ingratiation
Ingratiation has been regarded as a set of attraction-seeking behavior, although there is a debate whether it is ethical or unethical (Bohra & Pandey, 1984; Jones, 1964; Liden & Mitchell, 1988; Ralston, 1985; Strutton & Pelton, 1998; Strutton, Pelton & Tanner, 1996; Tedeschi & Melburg, 1984; Varma, Toh & Pichler, 2006); and although some may specially consider it as a tactic of impression management (Turnley & Bolino, 2001; Singh, Kumra & Vinnicombe, 2002; Zivnuska et al, 2004; Tedeschi & Melburg, 1984; Wayne, Liden & Sparrowe, 1994), a strategy of organizational politics (Eastman, 1994; Higgins, Judge & Ferris, 2003; Kumar & Beyerlein, 1991; Shankar, Ansari & Saxena, 1994; Watt, 1993) or a career management strategy (Aryee, Debrah & Chay, 1993; Aryee, Wyatt & Stone, 1996).
However, Tsang (2009a, 2009b, 2014) and his colleagues (Tsang, Ng & Wang, 2013) recently argue that this view may not truly reflect the nature of ingratiation in Chinese societies, because the view is rooted in the western cultural values. As the Chinese cultural values such as guanxi, renqing and mianzi are important to understand Chinese social behaviors (Hwang, 1987; Ho, 1991; Jacobs, 1979; Kipins, 1997, 2002; King, 1988, 1994; Peng, 1998; Yang, 1995; Zhai, 2005), Tsang and his colleagues states that it is more appropriate to consider Chinese ingratiation as a guanxi management strategy. To test this assumption, they conducted studies to examine the relationship between the sense of interpersonal attraction, the sense of renqing, the sense of mianzi, and interpersonal relation (Tsang, 2009a, 2009b, 2014; Tsang, Ng & Wang, 2013). The results suggested that ingratiation in Chinese societies may be more than attraction-seeking behaviors, but it may also not be a guanxi management strategy totally.
Indeed, ingratiation is multifaceted (Tsang, 2009a). We may not understand it comprehensively, if we only focus on one of the facets (i.e. view ingratiation as either an attraction-seeking behavior or a guanxi management strategy). Paradoxically, if we think ingratiation as an umbrella concept, its validity will be challenged (Hirsch & Levin, 1999). To overcome this difficulty, it is proposed to conceptualize ingratiation as a social action of social exchange during social interaction. This conceptualization achieves two advantages. First, it overcomes the debate whether ingratiation is ethical or unethical, because social exchange is both instrumental and expressive (Blau, 1964) and it is a phenomenon permeating social life (Coleman, 1990). This suggests that ingratiation is natural rather than ethical or unethical. Second, this conceptualization not only allows recognizing all the facets of ingratiation, because attraction-seeking, guanxi management and other facets of ingratiation will involve certain kinds of social exchange. It also avoids making ingratiation become an umbrella concept as social exchange is a distinct concept from each facet of ingratiation.
The Process of Ingratiation
It is proposed that the process of ingratiation will involve at least three components in Chinese societies: Enhancement of interpersonal attraction, exchange of renqing, and exchange of mianzi.
Enhancement of Interpersonal Attraction
According to Tsang (2009a, 2009b, 2014), ingratiation may increase one’s interpersonal attraction through the following mechanisms: (1) fostering the target person’s (the ingratiated person) self-esteem, (2) making the target person think that the actor (the person who ingratiates) likes or respects him/her, and (3) increasing similarity between the actor and the target person.
The mechanisms would arouse reciprocity of interpersonal attraction. When an actor ingratiates a target person with the tactics like self-depreciation and instrumental dependency, the self-esteem of the target person will be enhanced (mechanism 1) (Tsang, 2009b, 2014). Since esteem is a significant reward in exchange relation (Blau, 1964), it is possible for the target person to reciprocate the actor with liking or other kinds of rewards. Moreover, when an actor ingratiates a person with the tactics like other-enhancement, the person may attribute the actor likes him/her (mechanism 2) (Jones & Wortman, 1973). As a result, the person will like the actor, because liking is govern by the norm of reciprocity (Heider, 1958; Kenny & Voie, 1982). In addition, if an actor ingratiates with the tactics like conformity, the similarity between the actor and the target person will increase (mechanism 3). According to Byrne (1971), similarity will encourage mutual attraction. This is because people may anticipate interacting with those who are similar with them will be rewarding (Layton & Insko, 1974). The above examples show that successful ingratiation may increase one’s interpersonal attraction through social exchange. As a result, successful ingratiation may facilitate interpersonal relation, especially exchange relation (Colella & Varma, 2001; Deluga & Perry, 1994; Erdogan & Liden, 2006; Liden & Mitchell, 1988; Wayne, Liden & Sparrowe, 1994).
Exchange of Renqing
Exchange of renqing is a significant social exchange in Chinese societies. As r enqing is a core cultural value in Chinese societies, it is necessary to understand the meaning before further discussions.
Renqing can be regarded as a social resource in social interaction (Hwang, 1987; King, 1988; Yang, 1995; Zhau, 2005). As a social resource, renqing can be quantified and accumulated (Yang & Peng, 2005) and also transformed into money, goods, information, status, services, affection and etc for social exchange (Qian, Razzaque & Keng, 2007). Thus, there are the phenomena like “giving renqing”, “producing renqing”, “offering renqing” and “returning renqing”. Exchange of renqing is important because most of the social relations in Chinese societies are governed by the renqing rule, which requests people to exchange renqing and consider renqing during social interaction (Hwang, 1987; Yang, 1995).
Therefore, it is possible for an actor to give or offer renqing to others through ingratiation. For instance, an actor may do a favor, offer help or give gifts (the ingratiation tactic of favor-rending) to another person. In such case, the actor can be treated as renqing donor and the target person can be viewed as renqing receiver. For the renqing receiver, he/she will owe renqing debt of the renqing donor. In this sense, the renqing receiver will lose his/her power and autonomy in the relationship (Yang, 1995). This unequal condition plus the renqing rule will provoke the renqing receiver to return renqing to the donor (Zhai, 2005). The return may be more valuable than the receipt. This is because it does not only ensure the debt is repaid, but also turns the renqing receiver to renqing donor (King, 1988). As a result, renqing exchange relationship is created and social interaction is also routinized (Zhai, 2005).
Exchange of Mianzi
In addition to exchange of renqing, exchange of mianzi is also general among the Chinese. Thus, ingratiation may also involve this kind of social exchange.
Although the Chinese concept of face is consisted of mianzi and li en (Hu, 1944), mianzi is more emphasized (King, 2006). To some extent, this is because mianzi is the maximum of individual’s dignity, social esteem, social recognition, social status and social reputation, but li en is the minimum (Cheng, 1986). Thus, having mianzi implies having li en, but having lien does not guarantee of having mianzi (Zhai, 2005). In other words, having mianzi can increase social power (Ho, 1974; King, 2006). As a result, the Chinese may use different means to gain mianzi (Chang & Holt, 1994; Hu, 1944; Hwang, 1987). Chu (2006) mentioned that ingratiation is one of the important means. For example, an actor can give or save target person’s mianzi with the ingratiation tactics like other-enhancement, self-depreciation, instrumental dependency and conformity (Tsang, 2009b). As mianzi is reciprocal (Ho, 1974), the target person will give or save the actor’s mianzi in the future. If the target person cannot return mianzi, he/she will loss his/her own mianzi (Hwang, 1987; Yang, 1995). Consequently, exchange of mianzi becomes very common in Chinese societies. Ho (1994) described this social exchange to face dynamics by referring to the social processes “involved in face enhancement, maintenance, protection, restoration, and derogation” (p.270).