Power Struggle (Part 1)

Painted by Terry StricklandMost of us move in and out of power struggles throughout all our relationships. In the last 24 hours I had two very profound conversations around the topic. Because power and the use of it can be very interesting, let us explore a bit.

Let’s start with a theory. According to social psychologists French and Raven, power is that state of affairs which holds in a given relationship.

Let’s take for example the relationship between Andy and Betty. In their relationship, if Andy attempt to influence Betty to change, such a change would likely happen. But the change depends on the specific understanding Andy and Betty each apply to their relationship. This understanding rests on the recognition Betty gives to Andy’s qualities to motivate her to change the way Andy intended.

Conceived this way, power is fundamentally relative and depends on the quality of the recognition.

Andy must draw on the ‘base’ (recognition of qualities) or a combination of bases that is appropriate to their specific relationship to get the desired outcome. Drawing on the wrong power base can have unintended effects, including a reduction in Andy’s own power.

Power is therefore something we give to people by acknowledging and allowing them to motivate or influence us to do something or not.

French and Raven argue that there are five significant categories of such bases:

  1. Positional power -Also called “legitimate power”, it is the power of the relative position and duties of the holder of the position within an organization. Legitimate power is formal authority delegated to the holder of the position. This is the most obvious kind of power.
  2. Referent power – Referent power is the power or ability of individuals to attract others and build loyalty. It’s based on the charisma and interpersonal skills of the power holder. A person may be admired because of specific personal trait, and this admiration creates the opportunity for interpersonal influence. Here the person under power desires to identify with these personal qualities, and gains satisfaction from being an accepted follower. Advertisers have long used the referent power of sports figures for products endorsements.
  3. Expert power – Expert power is an individual’s power deriving from the skills or expertise of the person and the organization’s needs for those skills and expertise. Unlike the others, this type of power is usually highly specific and limited to the particular area in which the expert is trained and qualified.
  4. Reward power – Reward power depends on the ability of the power wielder to confer valued material rewards, it refers to the degree to which the individual can give others a reward of some kind such as benefits, time off, desired gifts, promotions or increases in pay or responsibility. This power is obvious but also ineffective if abused. People who abuse reward power can become pushy or became reprimanded for being too forthcoming or ‘moving things too quickly’.
  5. Coercive power – Coercive power is the application of negative influences. It includes the ability to demote or to withhold other rewards. It is the desire for a valued rewards or the fear of having them withheld that ensures the obedience of those under power. Coercive power tends to be the most obvious but least effective form of power as it builds resentment and resistance from the people who experience it.

I think two good questions we need to ask ourselves are: “Am I aware of the power I give other people or situations?” and “Am I have effective in the recognition of influence?” Maybe we also need to ask: “What are my reasons for allowing others to influence me ?”

What do you think?


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