The German sociologist, Nobert Elias, states that power is not an amulet that some have and others do not. He rather sees it as a ratio – a difference between the strength of the various parts in the game of power. As he explained it in the year of 1969: “The master has power over the slave, but the slave also has power over the master due to the services the slave provides for the master and how much the master depends on these services”. This power ratio is influenced by various aspects, and it’s balance can change. Formal power is one thing, but one’s imagination of the strengths and powers of the counterpart, also plays a significant part.
Through the work with my master thesis, I analysed various situations from my career where power was exercised over me as well as situations where I exercised power. I learned that you only have the power that people are willing to give you. The power ratio will change if people decide for it to do so.
Loyalty is a strong influencer on power. If people are loyal to you, the power ratio will be to your advantage. If loyalty change; the power ratio will also change. In my career I have been in situations where my switch of loyalty made kings fall despite their formal power, and I have been in situations where loyalty towards me helped me withstand extreme pressure from someone who had more formal power than me.
Knowledge or information is another strong influencer on power. If you know what is going on, but your counterpart does not know that you know, then the power ratio will be to your advantage. I was once fired from a job as line manager. Due to loyalty, I knew long time before it happened, that it would happen. But the one with the formal power to fire me, did not know that I knew. I could not switch the power ratio long enough to not being fired, but I could switch it enough to be the one with the initiative. I could plan for whom to be my successor, knowing that she would take good care of my team, and I could plan for a graceful exit and a new job in the pipeline before being fired.
People will only be able to control you if you allow them. Some do this by being aggressive and others by projecting guilt on you. Simply making up your mind and decide on where your limits are, will change the power ratio to your advantage and the ones trying to control you will lose their power over you.
“If you are very strong you must also be very kind” as Pippi Longstocking puts it in the universe of the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. This is in many ways the best advice you can get for keeping the power ratio to your advantage. Earning people’s respect and loyalty because in the long run you only have the power that people are willing to give you.
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