Whether we are in a face-to-face meeting, on a video call, or at a conference with 5,000 people, one thing remains consistent: Power is at play in every situation, says Gail Rudolph
Think about a time when someone famous or extremely important walked into the room. Remember how the energy changed just by their presence?
Suddenly, the air and the audience were super-charged and tingling with excitement. That person didn’t need to come in having the upper hand, being loud, or making a grand entrance. Many times, these individuals are quiet and reserved. Yet, everyone felt the shift. That’s personal power.
But power isn’t just reserved for celebrities or famous people. We have all been somewhere and felt the energy shift when a particular person enters a room. They aren’t well-known, and sometimes you don’t even know who they are, but you feel that uniquely powerful energy as soon as they walk in.
This unseen and mysterious force that exists between each of us is power, or, more accurately, power-full. Much like the wind, we can’t see it, but it naturally ebbs and flows as we interact with one another.
Directing and influencing
Power is the key to having ‘the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others, or the course of events.’ Our ability to harness this ever-present and limitless influence leads and governs everything we do.
You might be surprised to know that we pick our place on the power continuum at any given point in time simply by the unconscious cues and signals we give off. In other words, we have a choice, whether we let it go untapped, give it away, or harness it: Every person has control of their power.
The question remains, how do we tap into this unseen energy? First, we must eliminate the misconception that having power means we always need to Power up by being domineering, aggressive, or intimidating. Choosing to play our power down can be just as effective, if not more so. Think back to that person entering a room and that energy shift: they are power-full without demanding it. They are not dominating others or being overly demanding, controlling, or instilling fear. They are not egotistical and full of themselves. Instead, they radiate influence, connection, and leadership.
This very example demonstrates that there must be a balance of the two sides of power that harnesses its energy. I refer to this as power up or power down and denotes how we control and present ourselves given the situation at hand.
Powering up is making a thoughtful decision to step into a fuller presence like a peacock fully fanning its tail feathers. Powering down is an intentional choice to retract – a peacock with a folded train.
If we understand how to harness our power effectively, we intentionally employ cues and signals that indicate our thoughtfully chosen power position and influence those around us.
Like the peacock’s feathers, these signals, or power tools, communicate whether we are powering up by displaying our full fan of feathers or powering down by keeping our feathers folded. And, even if we don’t understand how to properly step into our power, those same cues indicate where we believe we belong on the power continuum; they are just unconsciously communicated rather than a deliberate choice to make the most of the situation at hand.
In business, every interaction matters. It can mean the success of a deal, the cooperation of our team, or the determining factor of success or failure. It’s up to us: we can relinquish this mysterious energy or claim the personal power at hand – the choice is ours.
Once we understand what power tools are available, accessible, and limitless in any given situation, we can use them appropriately. As Viktor Frankl stated: ‘Between stimulus and response, there is a space.’
Our ‘real’ power is knowing how to tap into that space and respond intentionally.
Power tools encompass our conversational style, posture, tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. However, they also include our mindset, boundaries, fear, intuition, and connection with others.
For example, suppose you’re engaged in an emotionally charged conversation either at work or home. Powering up could escalate the situation, resulting in anger, harsh words, and ultimately causing a rift in the relationship. Instead, choosing a power tool that deescalates the emotional intensity can help level the playing field to accomplish the task at hand.
In this situation, some power down tools that could be effective include speaking in a softer voice, expressing sympathy, using inclusive language (we, us, ours) using less formal speech, keeping your chin lowered, or taking up less space. The list is endless, but we rarely tap into these tools consciously by choice.
When people feel pushed, they have a natural tendency to push back. When we stop our reactive pushing and pulling and seek out the best way to harness our power and allow others to do the same, that’s when the energy flows and win/win outcomes are achieved.
Other situations may call for powering up to have our voice, opinion, and expertise acknowledged. Some of these power tools include using more formal speech, pausing for effect, making eye contact, injecting humour, making declarative statements, standing with firmly planted feet and shoulders back, showing little to no emotion, using large sweeping gestures, wearing quiet shoes, and taking up more space.
Making the most of the interaction
As humans, we gravitate to the power tools that feel most natural. Some people feel most at home flashing a full-feathered train, while others prefer to keep their tail feathers tucked. But, when we default to these attributes continuously, without conscious awareness, we aren’t making the most of the interaction and often inadvertently give our power and influence away.
Leaning heavily to one side or the other on the power spectrum can derail our efforts, completely relinquishing our influence with those around us.
Individuals who make intentional choices about which Power Tools to employ understand how to step into the powerful space between stimulus and response.
Three simple steps can allow us to choose our power positioning in any given situation:
1Determine where you naturally gravitate on the power spectrum. Consider the list of low and high-power tools and see if any sound familiar. Or ask a few trusted people—those closest to us can often provide helpful insights we may overlook.
2Assess your behaviour. Keep a list of the power tools and note which ones you default to and use in various situations.
3Experiment with adopting new power cards into your influence vocabulary. Attempting to master them all isn’t necessary. Instead, pick one verbal and one nonverbal marker and try them out. As those start to feel more natural, pick a few others.
Success at its very core relies on the effective and ethical use of power dynamics. Every one of us can step into our power to reclaim control and make every situation a win/win. There is no better time than now to understand and use our ability to harness the mysterious energy that ebbs and flows in every interaction to create a culture of mutual empowerment. And, let’s face it, that is how great things get accomplished.
Gail Rudolph is the author of Power Up Power Down, How to Reclaim Control and Make Every Situation a Win/Win.
Her years as an executive manoeuvring power dynamics has transformed her into the go-to expert on how to harness interpersonal power and create win/win outcomes.
Gail is one of 13 people globally —one of two women, and the only woman in the US credentialed to teach the six universal Principles of Persuasion based on the research of the ‘Godfather of Influence,’ Dr Robert Cialdini.
For additional resources visit gailrudolph.com