Inter-personal Power

Table of Contents:

1. Target must believe the information is correct and accurate.

2. Information must be of some use to the target.

3. Target must perceive the agent as an expert.

The key to using these 5 types of power effectively is to use them ethically.

Three general questions that one can ask to examine a power related behavior

1. Does the behavior produce a good outcome for both people inside and outside the organization?

2. Does the behavior respect the rights of all parties involved?

3. Does the behavior treat all parties equal and on a fair standard?

Power is a measure of an entity's ability to control the environment around itself, including the behavior of other entities. The term authority is often used for power, perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted as endemic to humans as social beings. Often, the study of power in a society is referred to as politics.

The use of power need not involve coercion (force or the threat of force). At one extreme, it more closely resembles what everyday English-speakers call "influence", although some authors make a distinction between power and influence - the means by which power is used (Handy, C. 1993 Understanding Organizations).

Much of the recent sociological debate on power revolves around the issue of the enabling nature of power. A comprehensive account of power can be found in Steven Lukes Power: A Radical View where he discusses the three dimensions of power. Thus, power can be seen as various forms of constraint on human action, but also as that which makes action possible, although in a limited scope. Much of this debate is related to the works of the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984), who, following the Italian political philosopher Niccolö Machiavelli (1469-1527), sees power as "a complex strategic situation in a given society (social setting)". Being deeply structural, his concept involves both constraint and enablement. For a purely enabling (and voluntaristic) concept of power see the works of Anthony Giddens.

Balance of Power

Because power operates both relationally and reciprocally, sociologists speak of the balance of power between parties to a relationship: all parties to all relationships have some power: the sociological examination of power concerns itself with discovering and describing the relative strengths: equal or unequal, stable or subject to periodic change. Sociologists usually analyse relationships in which the parties have relatively equal or nearly equal power in terms of constraint rather than of power. Thus 'power' has a connotation of unilateralism. If this were not so, then all relationships could be described in terms of 'power' and its meaning would be lost.

Even in structuralist social theory, power appears as a process, an aspect to an ongoing social structure.

One can sometimes distinguish primary power: the direct and personal use of force for coercion; and secondary power, which may involve the threat of force or social constraint, most likely involving third-party exercisers of delegated power.

Types of Power

Power may be held through:

• Delegated authority (for example in the democratic process).

• Social class (material wealth can equal power).

• Personal or group charisma.

• Ascribed power (acting on perceived or assumed abilities, whether these bear testing or not).

• Expertise (Ability, Skills) (the power of medicine to bring about health; another famous example would be "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king" - Desiderius Erasmus).

• Persuasion (direct, indirect, or subliminal).

• Knowledge (granted or withheld, shared or kept secret).

• Money (financial influence, control of labour, control through ownership, etc.).

• Celebrity.

• Force (violence, military might, coercion).

• Moral persuasion (including religion).

• Operation of group dynamics (such as public relations).

• Social influence of tradition (compare ascribed power).

• In relationships; domination/submissiveness.

J.K. Galbraith summarises the types of power as being "Condign" (based on force), "Compensatory" (through the use of various resources) or "Conditioned" (the result of persuasion) and their sources as "Personality" (individuals), "Property" (their material resources) and "Organizational" (whoever sits at the top of an organizational power structure) (Galbraith, An Anatomy of Power).

All forms of Power fall under one of two possible sub-headings.

• Aggressive (forceful)

Manipulative (persuasion).

Theories of Power

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) defined power as a man's "present means, to obtain some future apparent good" (Leviathan, Ch. 10).

The thought of Friedrich Nietzsche underlies much 20th century analysis of power. Nietzsche disseminated ideas on the "will to power", which he saw as the domination of other humans as much as the exercise of control over one's environment.

Some schools of psychology, notably that associated with Alfred Adler, place power dynamics at the core of their theory (where orthodox Freudians might place sexuality).

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