Dynamics of Power in the Workplace

There are five types of power in the workplace:

  • legitimate - authority given by an organization—a formal “right” to command others
  • reward - the ability for someone to reward compliance
  • expert - possessing skills and knowledge
  • referent - having gained a reputation, respect, or trustworthiness by others
  • coercive - possessing the ability to punish.

When any of these types of power veer off into their negative aspects, the work environment can get quite uncomfortable. Whether it’s favoritism, lack of communication, inequitable workloads, or micromanaging, dealing with toxic power differentials can be detrimental not only to individual well-being and productivity but also to the organization. 

In this webinar we:

  • explored challenges faced with those in positions of authority at work.
  • examined the different types of power in the workplace.
  • gpt tactics to neutralize power in the workplace.
  • learned to express constructive disagreement with those in leadership positions.

Webinar presenter Jim Hoar recently retired after 31 years of service with Target Company, where he held many roles, most recently as senior consultant on Target’s Executive Development team. Jim’s teaching and research interests include strategy development, influence and influence tactics, and leading transformational change.

Presented on March 15, 2023.

Webinar Takeaways

"The more thoughtful we can be, the more we can channel power in a positive way." —Jim Hoar, Executive Development (Retired)

Tacticts to Neutralize Power

  • When brainstorming ideas, disconnect the idea to the person, so that the ideas of those with real or perceived power are not weighted more heavily than other's. 
    • One way to do this is to write ideas on sticky notes that aren't identified with anyone's name.
  • For big meetings (e.g. planning or strategy meetings), ask what the impact will be of the "boss" attending the meeting. 
    • What is the purpose of the meeting and will attendees feel safe and comfortable expressing themselves with that person in the room?
    • Have that conversation with the person(s) in question well in advance of the meeting.
    • Be thoughtful and professional yet direct.
    • E.g. "Hi, I'm prepping for meeting X. I'm thinking about the impact of you being in the room for Y topic. What do you think about giving us the first half hour to brainstorm/contribute before you arrive?"
    • For meetings with multiple people in power, create a power map.
      •  Identify who will be in the meeting and assess their power (what type of power do they have? See list in webinar description above).
      • Ask yourself what their interests and concerns might be. How is their presence going to change the dynamics in the room? What outcome are you aiming for?

Tactics to Foster Productive Candor

  • Handle disagreements by expressing concerns constructively.
    • "Here's what I'm struggling with ..."
    • "What do you see as the cost if we do nothing about this?" Not "why" but "why now?" This question is about prioritization.
    • "How might we ...?" This question expresses concern, inquires about the topic, and still preserves relationships.
  • When a person(s) is entrenched in a position or you can't get a concensus ask: "What would need to be true in order for <idea> to be the best solution?"
    • Have people actually write out the answers. This activity teases out the assumptions about the nature of the problem or how the solution would be implemented.
    • If the power dynamic is too great to ask the question, answer the question for them.
  • During feedback (either giving or getting) tie it to a specific place or time.
    • Say "It would be even better if you ..." e.g. in the meeting, when you said X, it had Y impact on me. n the future, it would be even better if you ..."
    • Don't judge the behavior,. This way to give or get feedback without defensiveness.