“You’ve got to have an ace in the hole.”
~ Clint Black
It only takes a matter of seconds to discern someone’s status. At work, it’s easy to pick out the VP in a room full of people by how others treat her: making room for her to walk by, greeting her enthusiastically, and allowing her to initiate conversations.
But even in relationships with peers we can usually observe which person seems to have more power. It’s subtle because in these relationships, having more power is not necessarily based on formal authority. It’s based on something else.
How to Get More Relational Power
Generally, power in relationships is founded on a few simple principles*. If you grew up with brothers or sisters, or have children now, you’ll easily recognize these principles at work during arguments you might have had.
- Principle of Least Interest – Remember in the 4th grade when you had that consuming crush on Chris Chiles… and he didn’t know you even existed? And how you swore you’d do ANYTHING for him to notice you? That was giving up your power. The person who cares less can more easily walk away from the relationship, and it makes the other person try harder to keep them. It works the same way in negotiations: the person with the least to lose in the deal has more power
- Principle of More Options – He who has more alternatives, has more power. That’s why we always advise clients to get at least 3 competitive quotes when evaluating vendors. “I can take your deal or leave it… I’ve got CHOICES!” (the same goes with dates & jobs, by the way!)
- Principle of Resource Control – Resources include money, friends, education, skills, technology, and connections. And the more resources you have, the more OPTIONS you have! You have the power to withhold a resource or to reward another person by offering it. It’s why after years of being made fun of in high school, little nerdy Jerry Smithers showed up at your 20 year reunion with a six-figure income and a Lexus yelling, “WHO’S LAUGHING NOW, People?”
- Principle of Scarcity – In Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, only 5 golden tickets existed and the children who found them were revered. Know someone who has a rare baseball card or collectible? They could charge an arm and a leg for it. Why? Because it’s rare – and they have control of it!Do you have a unique (read scarce) skill, talent or job? You’re probably in demand and are able to be picky about the jobs you accept. That’s the kind of power that brings freedom!
These are just some of the principles of power at work in our relationships. And what’s interesting is that the balance of power can shift fluidly between two people on any given day. Kind of inspires you to be nice when it’s your turn to be higher status, doesn’t it? As they say, “What goes around, comes around.”
The bottom line? The more you develop yourself and gain alternatives and resources, the more options (and therefore more power) you will have in relationships.
* we would like to acknowledge John A. Daly, PhD. for his lecture on this subject