Been thinking a lot about power and influence, and what it represents in the variety of relationships we attend to at home, in the community, and at work.
For many years, I had shied away from these concepts – they seemed arrogant and sinister to me and at odds with “who I was” until one fine day in a Power and Politics class that rearranged my thinking. I didn’t want to be viewed as a jerk, and it had been more important to me to make others comfortable than to share my voice and expand my circle of influence. But after that class, I started embracing the idea of responsible power, the benefits to influence, and the impact they can make on each of us in the arenas in which we lead.
A few questions:
- When you walk into a business meeting, do you walk purposefully to a seat at the table, or do you pick a chair around the edge of the room?
- When you declare an opinion, do you laugh or joke afterwards?
- Do you qualify your opinion?
- When stopping by a superior’s office, do you walk in, or linger by the door?
- Do you look away from others when you are uncomfortable?
- Do you consistently try to make others feel comfortable, even at your own expense?
- When in a disagreement, are you willing to state your case, even if it might cause conflict?
- How do you act when you ask for a raise or when you negotiate? What is your body language saying?
These are some of the common ways we give away our power without realizing it and they can make a lasting impact on how others see us and treat us, especially in the workplace. At work, when interviewing candidates, most have no problem answering the question: “Why should we hire you?” Rarely do they stumble here. But when asked what their salary requirements are, there is often an obvious struggle between wanting to stay in the running for the position, and asking for what they feel they should earn. The candidates that gain traction are those that present their financial objective with quiet confidence, because it signals to me that there has been reflection, market research, and trust in their abilities. And those of us who recruit can tell who’s blustering and overconfident – which speaks as loudly as a candidate lacking confidence.
Power and Influence
“When you have two or more people in the room, influence is present.”
This is an essential thing to be aware of, and we can’t pretend this dynamic doesn’t exist. We all have different lenses and experiences that shape our behavior and views. And often at the root of our relationships to the concepts of power and influence is an unexamined value – a value that we have somehow inherited, one we respond to without thinking – that we can bring into the light. For those of us who want to develop this competency with care and responsibility, here are five necessary attributes to develop:
- Focus: what is the goal?
- Sensitivity to others: what relationship do you intend to have or create?
- Flexibility: if one method isn’t working, what’s next?
- Ability to tolerate conflict: toughen up that skin, ask questions, and truly listen. Acknowledge the emotions present, but don’t let them take over.
- Submerging one’s ego: good luck wrangling that thing in our individualistic society! But keep trying…it can be done. Maybe even gracefully at times.
In situations where we feel a lack of power, or have a tendency to give our power away, it is imperative that we pay attention to our intentions. Feeling insecure? Understand and acknowledge what you are feeling, but don’t let it take over. Instead, visualize how you want to appear and then practice. It will not be perfect at first, but this continued attention will yield results. If you are the one hovering by the office door, or not choosing a chair at the table, be ready to physically make the change. Stride right in. If you want to run for the hills when you see the storm of conflict headed your way, stand firm for a few beats longer than you would normally, and you will find your heat shield building. It will only feel uncomfortable for a while, and then it will normalize. And others will start seeing you differently, but more importantly, you will see yourself differently. Any important change takes time, but with awareness and a willingness to behave differently it is possible to build your influence, and yes, your power.
- Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power – Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t
- Robert Cialdini’s Influence – The Power of Persuasion
- Notes from class – thanks NL!
- Superboy: lonemind.com
- “Influence” starmind.com