Hi, James Loewen here with another blog. It never ceases to amaze me how unaware we are of our own power. Mostly we don’t think about it . . . unless someone else is using their power in ways that impact us negatively. Power ignored is wasted, misused and counterproductive. I have no doubt you can remember stories from your own experience that reflect this truth. Learning how to use your own, and other people’s power will get you better outcomes, every time.
Power, simply put, is the ability to influence. Influence can be achieved through use of resources, authority, knowledge and relationship. When we are using power in principled ways, we must remember and pay attention to how we influence others and what impact it has on us and those around us. Here are the three ways that we can use our power.
We have all experienced power used in ways which hurt us. This is coercive power, or ‘power over’. It is used to control others. Power over has its place, and is an important part of creating a society with order and stability. It is, however, significantly over used and has only a very select place in a principled life.
When we received a bursary or scholarship for school, or we hire someone to do a task for us, this is called ‘power for’. This is where we, or others, use power for the benefit of another. ‘Power for’ is a more friendly use of power, and has found expression in hundreds of social enterprises, including charity work, service industries and other areas where people with power wish to use it for good. It ranges from selfless giving (Ghandi, Jesus, Thích Nhất Hạnh, Mother Theresa) to forms of colonization and oppression (“we are doing this for your own good”, a rather nasty expression of good intentions masking ‘power over’ behaviour). Power for can be used in a principled life, provided it is done with permission.
When we are working with others towards an agreed upon outcome in an agreed way, this is called ‘power with’. It is the preferred use of power in a principled life. The reason for this is that it recognizes that all parties bring power to the table and the best solutions will harness all available power for the good of all present. When we acknowledge, value and respect the power that each person brings, we are best able to create outcomes that will benefit us all and have the greatest chance of success.
Once power becomes part of what you think about when negotiating, you will begin to see better outcomes. Try thinking about an important relationship you have, what power do each of you bring to the relationship. Do you know your own strength? If you need help with integrating this idea in your life, feel free to connect with me.