When you are working to achieve a goal, it is always helpful to step back and think about the types of power at play that are helping or hindering your efforts.
- What kind of power do I have at this time?
- What kind of power do others have at this time (my allies/my opponents)?
Once you have a better understanding of current power dynamics you can use this information to look for ways to more effectively use your power, share your power with others, or neutralize others’ power and thus, get closer to what you want to achieve.
When you start your analysis, you should remember that not all power looks the same. People often think about power as only things like money, connections, or official positions. These things are all real sources of power. However, recognizing all the types of power can help to provide more opportunities for you to use all the resources available to you.
If you want to see this play out in your day to day life, think about it next time you are watching a presentation. Look around the room and ask yourself: Who has power right now?
The person doing the talking often appears to have the most power in the room. A presenter can get power from the fact that they are standing up, they have visuals for people to look at, or because the people organizing the meeting have said that they want that person to talk.
Next, look around the room and ask: Who else has power in this room and isn’t using it?
The answer to that question is everyone.
Now, ask yourself: How could I change the power dynamic in this room?
As an individual, you likely have a number of ways available to shift the power dynamic. You could start playing with your phone, get up and walk in front of the presenter, or stand on your seat and start yelling – to name a few. As a collective audience, you could take even more power by doing to do things like talking to each other during the presentation, looking away from the presenter, or even walking out. All of these actions will change the power dynamic in the room.
You could also choose to share your power with the presenter if they seem to be faltering. For instance, you could ask a clarifying question that rephrases something the presenter is saying that seems confusing to the audience. Or, you could close a door if it is noisy in the hallway. Or, if someone next to you is talking, you could ask them to hush because you want to hear what the presenter is saying.
Finally, use this exercise to change the power dynamics during your everyday life. When you head into a meeting or a tough conversation, ask yourself: How could I more effectively use my power in this situation?
You will be surprised at all the subtle things you can do to shift the power dynamic in your favor. It can be things as simple as where you sit, how you dress, or where you direct your attention.
The Washington Post reported on this type of thinking in action in their 2013 story “White House women want to be in the room where it happens”.
When President Obama took office, two-thirds of his top aides were men. Women complained of having to elbow their way into important meetings. And when they got in, their voices were sometimes ignored. So female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.
“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,” said one former Obama aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. Obama noticed, she and others said, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.”
This same exercise applies to your work with others to achieve larger goals. Ask yourself and your colleagues: What power are we not using that we could, and how could we change the situation to increase ours power?
Often, we are not using our power effectively, and sometimes, we are not even aware of the power we have or how we are or are not using it. Paying attention to the questions above and spending just a little bit of time each day becoming more conscious about how you use your power, how you share your power with others, and how others are using their power can increase your level of effectiveness in everyday situations – from parenting to negotiating contracts.
Would you like to learn more about how to identify the types of power you have and how to use it more effectively? Contact us to schedule a training at your organization.