Have you ever come out of a meeting wondering: ‘How did I get here?’
You went in wanting one thing, but came out with something else?
You started the day feeling powerful, determined and grasping a clear set of desired outcomes. And yet ended the day with unforeseen and unwelcome results.
Often it’s not until the dust settles that you realise exactly what has happened. You’re on your way home, and slowly it dawns on you that things haven’t worked out as you hoped.
You started the day feeling powerful, but have ended the day feeling drained.
How has this happened?
To understand how and why we lost power, we need to understand where it came from in the first place.
Some power is positional, some is personal.
Positional power is bestowed upon you by the organisation you work for and can be broadly categorised into three sources – status, expertise and resources.
1. Status power might be called the stripes on your sleeve – you’re rank or job title. Where you are somebody’s boss you will naturally have more power because you and they know that you hold positional power.
2. If you’re the expert in a situation, the specialist in the room, you will feel more powerful at certain times. If you’re Finance Director, for example, and the conversation turns to finance, it’s likely that in the moment you feel more powerful. However, as the conversation moves to marketing or sales, it might be that your power diminishes.
3. Resource power is where you have neither status nor expertise power, but you have access to resources that other people need. Accrediting facilitator Dr Nicola Lincoln uses the example of the doctor’s secretary.
“Secretaries don’t hold the same positional or expertise power as the doctor, but they are in charge of a scarce resource,” she says. “They are the gatekeepers, in charge of access to a doctor’s time. And it might be that executive assistants, for example, will have a similar source of power within your organisation.”
If you rely solely on these sources of power to influence others, it can be really unhelpful when you try to influence people where you don’t have that positional power to call on.
Dr Lincoln says: “That’s not to say positional power is a negative. All three sources of positional power – expertise, status and resources – can be incredibly useful. But they can also disable you when you don’t have them.”
Indeed overuse of positional power can be damaging in two ways. Not only will it leave you feeling powerless in situations where you don’t hold positional sway, but also, if you continually pull rank to get things done, it can damage long-term relationships and reduce your power and impact even in those situations where you do hold rank.
This is where personal power comes in.
Personal power is about how you think, how you feel and how you hold yourself physically. It’s physical, mental and emotional energy that you bring to any situation.
The more you enhance it, the more effective you will be, because you can use personal power to influence anybody – your boss, experts, people who have resources you need – in any situation.
So back to the meeting. . .
Perhaps you felt power loss because you came up against an expert and felt unable to influence them. Or perhaps it was a meeting with individuals outside your organisation, where you couldn’t call on your status to influence them.
But that’s not the whole story.
Sometimes a meeting may go badly because of heightened emotions: if it’s particularly important, if there’s time pressure, or perhaps personal issues such as a lack of trust.
There are unexpected factors too. Perhaps you were expecting the meeting to be a one-to-one at 11am. You had your strategy all worked out for that situation. Suddenly you discover the appointment has been brought forward by an hour, and that two other people are going to be there too. Now you don’t feel as prepared, because the situation has changed.
All these factors can lead you to feel less powerful in the moment.
To maximise your personal power you need to work on influence flexibility, which is about being fluid, reacting positively to changing situations.
A greater appreciation of your personal power, will enable you to influence people whatever their position, and help you cope with setbacks. Feeling more confident about your personal power, more at ease with a wide range of influence styles, can help you stay in the moment, acting with conscious will, rather than just going with your gut.
Having influence flexibility, using your personal influence skills to neutralise, remove, or set aside any positional issues, will help you move towards more positive outcomes, even on those days when factors seem to be conspiring against you.
And there’s never been a more important time to be a good influencer. Traditional hierarchical organisational structures are being increasingly replaced by flatter, more collaborative models. And in flatter organisations, where position has less importance, the person with personal power can influence the room.
Ahead of your next meeting, ask yourself:
Who do you need to influence? Who is the critical stakeholder? Who is the person in the room I need to influence? What roadblocks are likely to arise? What will I need to convince them?
Is there a shared goal? Personality clashes or systemic flaws can derail a meeting. In which case it might be useful to focus on the goal – to remind people why they’re in the room.
If there’s resistance, where is it coming from? Resistance to change is a fact of life. To overcome resistance you need to be open to hearing where it comes from. If you have a proposal, imagine someone else thought of it and try critiquing it. This will help you prepare.
Is there a single influence style you tend to rely on? Remember to think about different situations – those where you hold power and situations where you don’t. Also try to think of high stress and low stress situations.
What has worked in the past? And what hasn’t? We all have natural influence orientations – natural patterns of behaviour. You need to be honest and think about where you feel you fall short. What approach has worked? Why was it successful? What approach failed, and why?