5a Power Issues and Ranking in Change
Rank and Power
What is Rank?
Arnold Mindell defines rank as "the sum of a person's privileges." He describes it
as a conscious or unconscious, social or personal ability or power. Whether you
earned or inherited your rank, it organises much of your communication
behaviour, especially at flashpoints of conflict. Robert Fuller writes of the abuse
of rank, and the power associated with it as 'rankism'. He describes it as 'the
mother of all isms'. While less conspicuous than racism or sexism, rankism is
something that everyone has experienced in some form.
Rank and Conflict:
Communication in conflict situations tends to be organized by the conscious and
unconscious use of power. Rank is often a key factor in organising how we
experience and ourselves and others in conflict situations. Wherever differences
of power are perceived (consciously or unconsciously) conflict is likely to occur.
Often in protracted conflicts, power is seen only on the 'other' side, and not our
own side. Feeling powerless escalates conflict. Raising awareness of power
issues can help to change patterns of communication in conflict. Deadlocks can
be broken when people with obvious power learn to use it wisely, and people
without clear power discover and own their strengths.
Rank is relational. It influences our interactions, whether we are aware of it or
not, because its influence is as much in how others see us as in how we
experience ourselves. Most of us have a tendency to be sensitive to how the rank
of others is affecting us, while remaining less aware of how our own rank affects
others. When we are comfortable, we tend to take our high rank for granted and
lose awareness of how others might feel around us. Often in conflict, each side
may feel oppressed, yet fail to notice how their own rank may seem oppressive to
others. Where there are rank imbalances, it is usually those with less rank who
raise a complaint and make those with higher rank mo re aware of their status.
Working with Rank
We cannot simply eliminate the differences in power and privilege and the
feelings arising from these issues. However we can be aware of rank dynamics
and address the differences of power and privilege in ways that help to
understand conflict and value all parties involved. While some types of rank
imbalances may be static, other types may be more fluid. The sense of power
can change quite rapidly between people from moment to moment, as different
types of power dynamics are experienced.
Different types of rank:
• Situational rank
• Social rank
• Personal rank
• Transpersonal rank
There are many kinds of power, some of which exist in the context of our organisations
or society, while others stem from our personal development. Each kind of power confers
specific privileges, which provide relative freedom of choice and confidence in a given
situation. Below you can find a tool that can help you and stakeholders to asses the
different types and levels of rank.
ICCO Alliance - Personal Learning Diary: Module 2, April 2008 19
Rank Assessment Tool
Think about the group, organization or community that you belong to. How do you
experience life in that setting? What are the privileges that you have in that
environment? Consider how you are seen by others. How does your rank in the following
areas shape your experience?
A high rank experience is indicated by feeling free to be yourself, being listened to and
respected by others, having your opinions sought out and feeling a sense of responsibility
for this group/organization/community.
A low rank experience is indicated by feeling marginalized, unseen, out of step with the
mainstream, resentful or hopeless in the context of this group/organization/community.
On a scale of 1 – 5 (5 being highest and 1 being lowest) rate your rank in the following
areas (remember, it is based on both your experience and how you are perceived by
Type of rank Rank score
• The number of power bases from which you operate on a regular basis?
• Your role in former hierarchy?
• Your seniority?
• Your expertise of experience?
• Your closeness to ‘core group’?
• Your temporary circumstances, e.g. moral high ground on an issue
• Your race?
• Your ethnicity?
• Your gender?
• Your age?
• Your class?
• Your profession?
• Your wealth/money?
• Your education (formal, qualifications)?
• Your physical health/ability?
• Your sexual orientation?
• Your family/social network?
• Your marital status?
• Your children?
• Your appearance/beauty?
• Your religious affiliation?
• Your title?
• Your languages/multi-linguistic?
• Your self awareness?
• Your charisma?
• Your self confidence?
• Your strength of character?
• Your emotional intelligence?
• Your courage?
• Your ability to survive adversity?
• Your education (life, not qualifications)?
• Your ability to communicate/influence others?
• Your internal cohesion (ability to be congruent)?
• Your maturity?
• ICCO Alliance - Personal Learning Diary: Module 2, April 2008 20
• Your cognitive complexity (e.g. ability to understand paradox)?
• Your detachment from your ego or personal desires?
• Your connection to something larger than yourself?
• Your faith (not religion)?
• Your ability to transcend or forgive past hurts?
• Your freedom from fear?
• Your service to an altruistic vision?
• Your intuitive or prescient ability?