Power Dynamics: Why they Matter and How to Play the Game (Part 2)

As we live, we develop a conscious and unconscious understanding of our individual role in the power structure around us. Whether conscious of it or not, we learn how we can harness our own power in beneficial ways.

Who Needs Power Anyway?

Those who actively seek power are not the only ones who need power – we all do. If you are a layman, or a person who pursues power unconsciously, putting in a little intentional effort can go a long way toward increasing the footprint of your impact.

We need to influence those who are in our circle and beyond. Anyone who has ever had a loving partner, children, relatives, best friends, or who has attempted to get a job has needed to earn power. Further, even when we are not the most powerful person in the room, we hold a share of the power.

Being aware of the power dynamics that occur around us has no downside. If we act as honorable people (hopefully you do), we have a moral duty to spread our goodness because we know that those with nefarious motivations will remain motivated to seek power. Wouldn’t we rather have good triumph over evil forces?

We must be prepared to lead others in a morally sound manner when called to do so because each of our ethical footprints which we leave on the world matter.

How to Ethically Gain More Power

Beyond our (hopefully) healthy interest in holding more power, there are observable lessons that can be learned from the history of how power has played out in the real world.

A popular book on this topic is Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. Below are some of my favorites of Greene’s laws.

Seek the rules of power to find the right path.

1. Never outshine the master.

Many people don’t become aware of this until it is too late. If you want a promotion at work or recognition for an accomplishment, you must consider what the person who you report to in a workplace wants. Giving them credit, even when they don’t fully deserve it, is actually often a better tactic than claiming credit for yourself and undermining your master’s authority in the power structure.

4. Always say less than necessary.

The more you talk, the more likely it is that you make a mistake or say something that will undermine your power. Instead of talking a lot, try to get the other person talking. This is an excellent behavior for any relationship. Allowing those on the other end of your interactions to express themselves while carefully listening to what they have to say, helps you tailor your message.

5. So much depends on your reputation, guard it with your life.

Develop and protect your personal brand. Do not voluntarily express sentiments or information that undermine it. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to go out of your way to be known for certain things. Convey your interests and passions to those you speak with and dial it up a few notches for those who can relate to you. It is a good thing when people think about you when you’re not around and if you can control their narrative, well – more power to you.

9. Win through your actions, never through argument.

We have all tried to rationalize with someone about why we feel a given opinion or suggestion is correct. Has it ever worked? If this appeal to reason works, it is certainly rare. Argument is almost never a productive tactic. The only thing they typically accomplish is to distract and undermine our relationships with others. This hurts our power. When we plan and execute actions based on priorities (see power law number 29 below), we show instead of tell. This is a much more powerful path.

13. When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude.

No one will give you what you want because of their mercy or their gratefulness for your interest. You have to show them, ideally through these power tactics how you can help them with their goals and objectives. It is better to appeal to your audience or target’s self-interest. This is true, no matter this situation.

16. Use absence to increase respect and honor.

It is important to appear as if you are in demand. In dating, this is true for men, especially in the beginning. You don’t want the beautiful woman you are developing feelings for to think she has captivated your attention to the point of obsession. She is interested in you to potentially be her man, not a puppy. This same dynamic applies elsewhere. It is best to appear as if you are in-demand and never desperate or needy.

19. Know who you’re dealing with – do not offend the wrong person.

This law warns that certain people will seek retaliation against you in certain situations. It is wise to spot the warning signs of the type of person who would do this. People like this may be jealous or untrustworthy for a number of reasons. The best way to win a war is to avoid those who may be inclined to start one with you.

29. Plan all the way until the end.

A dream goes nowhere unless it is converted into action. Planning keeps you grounded in pursuit of a practical goal. Forget Grant Cardone’s 10x rule. Take small steps and enjoy the journey of growth. Evaluate and change course periodically by doing regular reviews (weekly is a good place to start). The only way you can fail is if you stop engaging in this process.

35. Master the art of timing.

Someone who has ‘mastered the art of timing’ will refrain from making a personal connection at the wrong time. For example, a hiring manager doesn’t care about you as a person when they look at your resume. This is not because they are inconsiderate. It is only because they don’t know you! their resume. Similarly, it is better to ask for more money when you have leverage and you can speak to the interests of your manager, department, or company. Timing is everything.

38. Think as you like but behave like others.

Conformity is necessary to be a part of a functioning society. Non-conformists most commonly land in jail. Despite this, compromising your ability to think freely and independently is always a non-negotiable no-go. Powerful people conform but remain independently minded. Balance is key.

40. Despise the free lunch.

No need to be a paranoid person about this but when someone provides a freebie or a handout, they invoke the law of reciprocity. This of course, leads to an unwritten obligation that you will give back in the same, or a similar way. Who has the leverage in this scenario? Answer: The giver.

*Obviously time and place are most important, so don’t go treating your parents or spouse awkwardly when they try to take you out.

43. Work on the hearts and minds of others.

Emotions travel much farther than facts and rational reasoning. They also pack more of a punch. Just look at politicians and the tactics they use. The words they use to drum up support are geared towards fear, hope, and other emotions. Always go for the jugular by appealing to the heart instead of rationalizing in the brain. People always think with their hearts, not their minds.

46. Never appear too perfect.

Vulnerability leads to immense power. If you appear so well put together that others become suspicious of you, your ability to exert influence will dwindle. You may also come off as pretentious. This is not a good look in the eyes of anyone. Some may even feel inclined to tear you down to their level.

Who Are You “Conquering?”

“Generous people take care of their own needs first. In fact, doing so is a moral necessity. The world needs you at your best.” Scott Adams

The insights above and in the book apply to endless scenarios – including: workplace politics, family dynamics, dating, marriage, and relationships in all their forms. A prerequisite to improving your influence towards others is the ability to command yourself. Otherwise known as discipline, this is where the journey should start.

Without this ability, if you manage to amass some power, mixed messages will be sent to followers. If unable to attain power, a lack of confidence will probably prevent anything from happening in the first place. 

Once we’ve mastered control over ourselves, we can expand our influence to affect others.

Seek and You Shall Find

The most certain and everlasting way to gain power is to build mutually beneficial relationships with other people. Life is all about connection and helping others. In any helping interaction, the helper gains more than the person who receives the help.

Treating the people who matter to you and to your strategic purposes like the treasures they are will allow for more influence than anyone would need. Followers and friends are drawn to leaders like a magnet. Learn to stand up for what you believe in while respecting others interests and aspirations. Leadership is always a moral responsibility.

By practicing and reflecting upon these laws of power, our influence will grow over time as we learn and adapt. There is never a point where the skill of power can be mastered, it can always be improved.

We all might as well give it a shot.

Success! You're on the list.

2 thoughts on “Power Dynamics: Why they Matter and How to Play the Game (Part 2)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s