Understanding the Power Line™
Dr. Michael Rock
Licensed Emotional Intelligence Facilitator
Professor (ret.) Ethics and Leadership
erhaps the most recurring topic today – or even, of all time - is that of “power.” Often power is present when we least expect it. Often power is present when we are totally unaware of its presence. But power will be present, no doubt about that. Some say that power is its own seduction … like an aphrodisiac. Many claim that before they knew it, they were under its spell.
Power. It calls us to attention Power. It involves each and every one of us. Often, we say we can’t live with it; often, we say we can’t live without it. It is a siren call for many, a life of brutality for some, a symbol of oppression for others, a door for transformation for yet others; a chance to get even, a chance to experience collegiality. Many ways to view power and many ways to live power. Many choices. But the one choice not possible … avoiding power.
Two stories from a number of years ago, each involved 747 passenger jet airliners. As the first one left Orly airport in France and was in the air, a young woman began having labour pains and actually giving birth! The captain realized that he was not too far away from the airport and so turned the plane around and landed so the woman could be attended to from medical personnel. The second case was again a 747 airliner at a different time that had just left Gatwick in England. As the plane was gaining altitude, once again a young woman began to give birth. In this case the captain of the aircraft turned the plane around and landed safely so that once more medical personnel could take over. What always struck me as amazing when I read these two different stories over 20 years ago was the enormous power of an about-to-be-born baby! No words, just the awareness of a new presence entering our world. I use to tell people at workshops and conferences, “Let’s suppose you were on either of these aircraft. No baby about to be born. But you wanted to go back to the airport for some reason or other. Do you think the captain would acquiesce to your wishes? The answer was always unanimous – in the negative, of course!
So, what is about power? Most would say that context is everything, that is, what may be an experience of power by one person is not by another. And here’s where a very interesting conundrum manifests itself. Whatever can be said about ‘power’ one thing is commonly agreed to: power is a persuasive factor in our lives. Power persuades.
Absolute power, supposedly, persuades absolutely, to play on the words by Lord Acton
from 1887. But what kind of power are we talking about? In this essay (Part I) and in the next (Part II) we will be discussing personal power in our relationships. Let’s see if we can break down some of the different aspects so we can get a better understanding.
The 70-30% Dilemma
We’re not what we seem to be. Period. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of meeting someone for the first time, not liking the person, but after a few more encounters, seeing a different side of the person, a side that is attractive to you. There’s an old saying,
“You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Each of us wants to be congruent with ourselves.
When we are we can grow and there is a harmony between our inner choices and our external behavior. When that truly happens the outcome is always a good, something that contributes to the welfare of the person and often to the welfare of those around the person. As John Donne remarked: none of us is an island unto ourselves; we’re always linked to the greater sense of community around us.
Research shows us that 70% of our communication is nonverbal (what is called the psychological level) and 30% is possibly verbal (what is called the social level). We know from experience that this 70% is often much higher. In the House of Parliament one can witness such behaviour