Power is situational. In what situations do you have the most power? When do you have the least?
Authority by Public Opinion
Authority by public opinion is when a person has power or authority not directly because of their experience or expertise, but simply because they are held in high esteem by the public or by public outcry. An example of this is how scholarly or academic journals are more likely to publish articles of people who are fairly established and somewhat renowned within their respective field as compared to one who is virtually unknown. A really interesting study involved taking previously published articles written by prestigious and reputable authors and resubmitting them to those same journals without any alterations except replacing the authors with "unknown names." Out of twelve resubmitted articles, nine of them went through the review process undetected, and eight of those were rejected! This was in spite of the fact that each had been published previously when all that was different were the names.
Another similar experiment was conducted when a writer typed out Jerzy Kosinski"s novel, Steps, word-for-word and sent the manuscript to twenty-eight literary agencies and publishing houses. Ten years earlier, the book had sold a half million copies and had won the National Book Award. Now, appearing to have been authored by a lesser-known writer, the manuscript was deemed "inadequate" by all twenty-eight organizations - including Random House, the novel"s original publisher!
Here is another great example of Authority by Public Opinion. An error in Intel"s Pentium chip was detected in 1994. News spread quickly about the flaw, and public outcry burgeoned even more when Intel tried to downplay the issue. It wasn"t long before Intel was flooded with e-mails and phone calls requesting a no-questions-asked return policy on the microprocessor. In the heat of the whole mess, complaints peaked at 25,000 in one single day! In spite of the huge public response, Intel refused to offer the requested return policy. Not surprisingly, the press got ahold of the story, and Intel"s stock dropped dramatically. Finally, Intel was forced to adopt a new return policy. What was the result of putting off public opinion for as long as they had? A mere $475 million write-off. In just a matter of weeks, public opinion had influenced the value of the entire company. Ignoring public opinion proved a very costly mistake.
Authority by External Characteristics
Some people perceive someone to be powerful because of his/her physical characteristics. For example, being tall can emit authority to another, even before you"ve spoken to that person. If you look back through history, presidential elections in the United States have been won by the taller candidate twenty out of twenty-three elections since 1900. Another example of how height scores points is in the battle for affection. Research suggests that women are significantly more responsive to a man"s published personal ad when he describes himself as tall. A final example of how physical characteristics portray authority is exhibited in our response to someone who has a deeper speaking voice. We subconsciously respond to deeper voices as more commanding and authoritative.
Recognize that many of the things we possess serve as status symbols. Not only this, but the more we have, the more "rich and powerful" we may be perceived. One study conducted in the San Francisco Bay area showed that people driving expensive cars received better treatment from other drivers than those driving more modestly priced cars. For example, researchers found that motorists waited significantly longer before honking at a new, luxury car lingering at a green traffic light than at an older, economy model doing the same thing. What"s more, nearly all the motorists honked their horns impatiently more than one time at the cheaper car. In the case of the luxury car, fifty percent waited respectfully, never honking at all.
Another external item of authority is exuded by our surroundings. In one study, the appearance of a professor"s office changed the way a student perceived the professor. The students were told to meet a professor in his office. When they arrived, they found the professor was not yet there. They were asked to wait for five minutes in his office. Some students waited in a clean and organized office, while the other students waited in a dirty and disorganized office. After the five minutes had passed, they were told the professor could not make the appointment. Later in the study, the students were asked to rate the professor based on his lecture. Researchers found the visit to the office had dramatic influence on the students" overall perception of the professor. The students who visited the disorganized office rated the professor as less authoritative, less open, less trustworthy, and less friendly. Bottom line: Appearance affects your authority.
Coercive Power - Weapons of Force
Coercive Power is the ability an individual has to control or force someone to comply. Such power includes intimidation, manipulation, scare tactics, threats, deceitfulness, and lies. This could be in the form of mafia protection fees, constant threat of being fired, blackmail, physical force, economic dependence, or emotional control. Why do people use coercive power? Why is coerciveness the power we see the most? Coercive power is the easiest power to learn and use. Many people have seen great examples of coercive power in their lives. For some, it may be the only type of power they know. It doesn"t take much talent or skill to threaten, pressure, or scare someone into submission. When people can"t get compliance with their skills, most will resort to coercion. They hit desperation and frustration with either the inability to use the higher forms of persuasion or because of a lack of knowledge of a better way.
Coercive Power is seductive and you usually get instant results by employing it. Coercive Power is based on bringing others down instead of lifting them up to a higher level of thinking. Instead of climbing the highest mountain, coercive power players will climb the smallest one and blow up all the others so they are the only one on top. Such power also requires the least amount of planning and time; there is no need to convince someone with words when you get immediate results with force or coercion. As the great mobster Al Capone said, "You can get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone!"
This type of power causes unwanted long-term consequences. Coercive Power is based on fear, and fear only lasts while the threat is present. When this threat disappears, so does the power. This type of power does not require that belief or an inclination for true influence be created in order to work. I have seen coercion kill creativity, numb the human spirit, and create resentment and rebellion. Coercion will always eventually backfire.
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