The hard thing about power struggles
How you approach people when you're striving to get buy-in and support for a new idea can change everything.
Last year, I was working with a client as she was launching an innovative program in her organization. She was getting frustrated because the very team she thought would support her initiative were the loudest naysayers and she was experiencing different forms of resistance from supporters as well.
As we were processing how to best approach this nuanced dance I listened as she summarized her plans, "I just need to plead my case."
There was an air of desperation in her voice. She had been telling herself a story that she needed the support of these individuals to succeed and as a result, she was giving her power away.
"What if you don't need to plead your case?" I asked. "What if you approached this situation differently? Instead of treating these people as a jury, you need to present evidence to, what if you approached the conversation as equals, which you are?"
This, of course, got the wheels spinning. We often are not aware of the ways we play into power-over vs. power-under dynamics in our relationships and conversations. In this instance, my client was so fixated on wanting the support and backing of a few individuals she believed were necessary to her success that she was playing into a power struggle.
The shift from power-over vs. power-under to power-with (or being equals) changes everything in a conversation.
Part of shifting the power dynamics requires recognizing that we all possess power within. We each have the power to change our thoughts, to manage our feelings, and to direct our focus. When we blame others for making us feel bad or holding us back, we are giving our power away.
Instead of pleading her case, an approach where she was fixated on things going a certain way, I encouraged my client to go into these conversations with openness and curiosity. "What if you listen to connect first and foremost? What if you asked open and honest questions? What if you seek to understand where they are coming from before you try to be understood?"
The truth was, she couldn't succeed with this initiative on her own. She needed others to be a part of making this solution happen. But contrary to the story she'd been telling herself, who was involved and what their involvement looked like in order to achieve her vision was not set in stone.
A power-over dynamics and the need for control go hand-in-hand. It goes back to a limiting belief in our society, which is that there's one right answer and every other answer is wrong. I see leaders get sucked into this limiting belief all the time. And it doesn't help that our neurophysiology rewards us with a hit of dopamine when we are right. We have an epidemic, it is the addiction to being right.
People tend to agonize over figuring things out in advance of having a difficult conversation. This notion that you did all this hard-work, therefore you have the answer and just need the other person to agree that your right reinforces the power-over dynamic. It also feeds the addiction to being right.
When you're engaged in a power-over dynamics, it affects the way people show-up in conversations. You're not getting their best, most innovative ideas, you're getting a guarded version of themselves that's striving to save face because they're responding to a (perceived) threat to their own safety and well-being.
Suffice it to say that solving any complex problem requires more brainpower than one individual possesses. That is why it is so important to consciously shift the power dynamics in conversations to power-with. Doing so ensures that you're getting people to bring their best ideas forward.
My client did change how she approached conversations with colleagues about this initiative. She stopped trying to win over the naysayers because she didn't really need their support to succeed anyway. And instead of pleading her case with other collaborators, she listened to and addressed their needs first. It was a simple, yet profound shift that changed everything.
As a result, her initiative has been a success. And guess who's been singing praises for this innovation lately - that's right, the naysayers are now vocal believers because she accomplished her vision by resolving to make it happen while being open to engaging others in figuring out how to make it work!
Are you ready to claim your power within but aren't sure how to get started? Signup for the next Journal Jam on Friday 9/11 and remove obstacles so you can turn bold ideas into reality!