How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Kantor's Four Players
Professor David Kantor identified four types of participant within conversations that can also be seen in almost any group or meeting, particularly where there are decisions being made.
These players can be found by analyzing 'speech acts' (statements and questions) within conversations. Within speech acts, three types of content can be identified (power, meaning or affect) and one of three types of paradigms identified (open, closed, or random), giving 36 possible speech acts.
While any person can take any role at any point, even within a conversation. People tend to fall into default roles and will typically prefer one position over others, for example when faced with an opposer, many people will start in a bystander position to understand what is going on before changing to a different role.
Movers propose and drive action. They are natural leaders who are prepared to stand up for their principles and seek to drive change. They can also have a shadow side where the changes they propose are for ulterior motives, such as gaining personal power.
When you are driving change, get the movers on board early, engaging them so they can feel a sense of ownership and lead parts of the project that match with their interests and skills.
Opposers are more conservative and naturally challenge any proposals for change. This can be a useful role that moderates change that can be more about the desires of the mover than of benefit to the family or group.
When you are driving change, find out early who the opposers will be, then either convert them to your cause so they are opposing external opposers or barricade them in a safe place where they can do little harm. A way of doing this is to give them an impressive-sounding role which has little real power. You can also use them as devil's advocates, getting them to challenge ideas and plan so you can identify and manage risks before they cause you problems.
Followers are usually quite cautious as, while they will join in, they are unwilling to take a personal stance on things, at least until they can understand more and see which way the social wind is blowing.
When you are driving change, encourage the followers to join you. Demonstrate how they will not be harmed and will gain by joining you earlier rather than later. Give them supporting or administrative roles where they can use their skills to the optimum.
Bystanders are even more neutral than followers and prefer to observe what is going on rather than commit themselves to any argument or position. When they are comfortable with their understanding, they may then take more positive action. Alternatively, they may just decide to sit back in the spectating role.
When you are driving change, do not let these people get left behind. Engage them, give them things to do and ensure that they do them. Passive bystanders can kill change when they drag their heels and slow overall progress.
In anything from everyday conversation to business change projects, listen carefully to the speech of people around the table or in front of you. Identify the roles they are taking and respond to these accordingly.
Kantor, D. and Lehr, W. (1975). Inside the Family, Jossey-Bass
Kantor, D. (2012). Reading the Room, Jossey-Bass
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