Understanding Power Dynamics at Work


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Are you ever stuck in conflicts that seem unresolvable? Do you sometimes wonder about the cause of a conflict, but can’t put your finger on it? Do you ever avoid particular people because the interactions are unpleasant?
In most work environments, power dynamics are an issue we have to manage. Sometimes these dynamics are unseen and unspoken. At their best, power dynamics can be used to build productive relationships, influence others in positive ways, and interact with political savvy. At their worst, power dynamics can result in limited, black and white thinking, bullying and ultimatums in the workplace.

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Understanding Power Dynamics at Work

  1. 1. Understanding Power Dynamics at Work Claudette Rowley September 12, 2012A Service Of: Sponsored by:
  2. 2. INTEGRATED PLANNING Advising nonprofits in: www.synthesispartnership.com • Strategy • Planning (617) 969-1881 • Organizational Development info@synthesispartnership.comA Service Of: Sponsored by:
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  4. 4. Today’s Speaker Claudette Rowley Coach, Consultant, Author Metavoice Coaching & Consulting Hosting:Assisting with chat questions:Jamie Maloney, Nonprofit Webinars Sam Frank, Synthesis PartnershipA Service Of: Sponsored by:
  6. 6. Key Take Aways Understand power dynamics – how do we define them and how do we decipher them? Learn how to effectively deal with common power dynamics at work. Recognize your role in positive and negative power dynamics and how to shift that role if needed.
  7. 7. How Do We Define Power?1. Designated power (power given by your position)*2. Distributive power (either/or power)3. Integrative power (both/and power)*Definitions from Interpersonal Conflict by Wilmot & Hocker
  8. 8. Designated Power Power results from your position within an organization or relationship. Power is conferred by the position you hold.
  9. 9. Distributive Power Results from your ability to achieve your objective over the resistance of another. “I dominate you or you dominate me.”
  10. 10. Integrative Power Power with the other – both/and power. Joining forces with someone else to achieve mutual goals -- > creating a “win-win” situation. Both parties achieve results.
  11. 11. Power DynamicsThe dynamics of power in and of themselves are neutrally charged. How we use power depends on intent, self-awareness and skill. Constructive use of power solves problems, enhances relationships, and balances power.
  12. 12. Interpersonal Power“Interpersonal power is the ability to influence a relational partner in any context because you control, or at least the partner perceives that you control, resources that the partner needs, values, desires or fears. Interpersonal power also includes the ability to resist the influence attempts of a partner.” From Mike Monsour, University of Colorado.
  13. 13. What Gives Us Power? Control of resources Interpersonal relationships Communication skills Subject matter expertise
  14. 14. Common Power DynamicsAssumptions about power Power is hard to assess from outside a relationship. It’s challenging to assess who has the most power since two people may balance power in ways unique or specific to them.
  15. 15. Perceptions of PowerPower can be used in ways that look weak on the surface:- Ghandi or Martin Luther King- Employee is trying but failing and someone does task- Passive-aggressive behavior
  16. 16. Common Passive-Aggressive BehaviorsBach & Goldman’s list of passive-aggressive behaviors: Forgetting appointments, promises or agreements Slipping and saying unkind things, then apologizing Acting out nonverbally, such as slamming doors, but denying anything is wrong Evading situations so others are inconvenienced Getting confused, tearful, sarcastic or helpless when certain topics come up
  17. 17. Denying Power UseSome people are so uncomfortable with power they may deny that they use power and influence.- Deny that he or she is communicating (“It’s the pressure I’m under” or “I was really stressed. I’m not responsible for what I said.”)- Deny that a message was communicated (“I didn’t say that”.)- Deny the situation in which it was communicated.
  18. 18. Power Imbalances High power Low power Bullying
  19. 19. High PowerIs having more power than others in a way that is unbalanced. People who hold high power may not be pleased with it. It can be challenging to maintain one’s self integrity.
  20. 20. High PowerHigher power people MAY develop altered views of themselves: May pursue power as an end. May receive false performance feedback designed to protect power. May devalue those who are less powerful.
  21. 21. Low PowerIs having less power in a way that is unbalanced. May feel strong emotion or helpless lethargy. Breeds hopelessness, frustration or apathy. May believe they can’t shift, change or influence their positions – this may or may not be true.
  22. 22. BullyingThis information is based on the work of Catherine Mattice of Civility Partners LLC.Mattice is the author of the book BACK OFF! Your Guide to Ending Bullying at Work.
  23. 23. Definition of Bullying Repeated, perpetual and It has enormous costs: ongoing. Harms target of bullying  Human costs and witnesses to it.  Communication costs Perceived power  Not meeting org goals imbalance.  Hurts the org bottom line Most power imbalances do NOT lead to bullying.
  24. 24. Examples of Bullying in the Workplace Aggressive communication Humiliation Manipulation of work
  25. 25. What’s Not Bullying? Conflict between two people or on a team Harassment or discrimination Having a boss who challenges you
  26. 26. How to Eliminate Bullying in the WorkplaceMattice suggests a three-pronged approach: Leadership – Be an example, hold all employees accountable for respectful behavior, reward positive behavior Policy – Corporate policy, handling grievances Culture – provide anonymous reporting, training, performance management
  27. 27. How to Balance Power or to be EmpoweredWilmer & Hocker describe these balancing “acts”:1. Conversation2. Restraint3. Calm persistence4. Stay actively engaged5. Empowerment6. Frame the conversation7. Phrases to use to balance power
  28. 28. Conversation Speak in clear, positive tone. Be direct and respectful. Show compassion for others’ perspective. Listen and ask open-ended questions. Reflect feelings. Clarify and summarize what you have heard. Question when needed.
  29. 29. RestraintThe higher power party uses restraint and values the partnership or group over their individual rights to exercise their power.
  30. 30. Calm PersistencePeople with lower power can gain equal power through calm persistence. Calm, careful analysis draws attention to a problem. Persuasive skills are important. Must be judged as credible, effective and practical. Emotions charged neutral.
  31. 31. Stay Actively Engaged Make clear what’s ones beliefs, values and priorities are, and keep behavior congruent with these. Stay emotionally connected to significant others even when things get intense. State differences, and allow others to do the same.
  32. 32. EmpowermentPeople with higher power can help empower others:- Power can be balanced with more training, decision making power or more freedom.- Third parties are invested with power to intervene on behalf of less powerful people (sexual harassment laws, child abuse laws).
  33. 33. Phrases to Use Balance Power Validating or acknowledging another Using “I” statements Asking the other what they need Letting the other person know what they would gain from helping you Announcing any intended escalation and looking for another way. Expressing optimism
  34. 34. More Strategies Slow the process. Show concern for the relationship. Describe what the situation or what you are experiencing.
  35. 35. What’s Your Role in the Power Dance?Most of us have a common or habitual way that we use power. This may be different at work than at home.Let’s review the three definitions of power:1. Designated power (power given by your position)2. Distributive power (either/or power)3. Integrative power (both/and power)
  36. 36. What’s Your Role in the Power Dance? Assess how much power you believe you have in your organization. High? Low? Balanced? Empowered? Is it situation specific? What are your one or two favorite (or habitual) ways of engaging in power dynamics? How would it benefit you or others to shift? Under what circumstances could you make a change?
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