Are Power Games Killing Your Relationships?

This week my normal pattern of train commute has changed – I’ve been lucky enough to have early starts at my desk and take late morning trains – lovely! 

With later trains I’ve been joined by holiday travellers. Sat amongst this mix, what has shocked me is the dominance and power that one side of a couple can exude, and I’ve seen again and again, an underlying steaming anger.  What’s going on?
What is it about relationships that means we want to have power within them, and what stops us standing up for ourselves when others try to have power over us?

We see this in leadership personas all the time – dominance and submission. 
Not every business fosters this environment but many do. 
And it’s toxic. 
It destroys confidence, courageousness and engagement.  

 

There are many types of power and many potentially outdated theories around it.  An interesting one however is French and Raven (1959), and later Raven (1974), stating that there are six bases of social power:

 

Reward Power:  the ability to give rewards when others comply with your wishes.  This may not work from one setting to the next.  For example, an employee might laugh at a boss’s joke, but the boss’s neighbour might not.

Coercive Power:  the opposite of Reward Power.  It’s the ability to deliver punishments.  While coercion can be effective in the short-term, it creates resentment and individuals will try to end the relationship.

Referent Power:  where role models come into play.  Referent Power is when somebody wants to be like you.  They identify with you.  You are their reference model.  They find you attractive in some way and they model your behaviour or thinking. 

Legitimate Power:  power that comes from a position or role.  It’s positional authority.  For example, you “should” or “ought” to listen to your parents, or your boss.  The unique aspect of legitimate power is that it’s not about rational arguments — the power comes from the position or role. 

Expert Power: “knowledge is power”, where expertise or knowledge is the source. This is where credentials, awards, and know-how play a role.  You end up deferring to greater knowledge for the area of expertise, such as a doctor or mechanic.  It’s limited to the area of expertise. 

Informational Power: the most transitory type of power.  Once you give your information away, you lose the power, e.g. you share the secret, the power is gone.  It’s different from other forms of power because it’s grounded in what you know about the content of a specific situation. 

What types of power do you experience? 

  • How good is your self-awareness? 
  • Is there a fragile base to your need or habit of power? 
  • Are you damaging connections or people by using power? 
  • Do you depend on knowledge for power – and if so, what happens when you don’t have the answers?
  • Are you consciously looking at the impact of power within your workplace?  

At Courageous Success we talk about not giving your power away – we all have the ability to control our emotional response.  

So, what power games are you playing? 

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