The 20 Principles of Power
Power is about altering the states of others.
Activities which alter the states of others include: influencing their beliefs, eliciting their emotions, praise/compliment/esteem them, give them something they value.
The more esteem we have in a group, the more we’re able to alter others’ states.
Power is part of every relationship and interaction.
It is not just the “powerful” who have power. You exercise power everyday, whenever you interact with others.
Power is found in everyday actions.
This includes: asking the right questions, offering encouragement & praise, connecting people who don’t know one another, suggesting a new idea.
Power comes from empowering others in social networks.
No one person is powerful — they only have power because a group of people have given them power. Why would they? See the next principles…
Groups give power to those who advance the greater good.
One of my favorite points in the book. The author talks about “The Big 5” social tendencies and how they contribution (or take away from) the greater good:
“Groups give us power when we are enthusiastic, speak up, make bold assertions, and express an interest in others. Our capacity to influence rises when we practicekindness, express appreciation, cooperate, and dignify what others say and do. We are more likely to make a difference in the world when we are focused, articulate clear purposes and courses of action, and keep others on task. We rise in power when we provide calm and remind people of broader perspectives during times of stress, tell stories that calm during times of tension, and practice kind speech. Our opportunity for influence increases when we are open and ask great questions, listen to others with receptive minds, and offer playful ideas and novel perspectives. The Big Five concept captures different ways in which we, in the words of Hannah Arendt, “stir others to collective action” and advance the greater good.” ~Dacher Keltner
Groups construct reputations that determine the capacity to influence.
Word spreads when someone is generous, humble, capable. Word spreads more quickly when someone is manipulative, deceptive, selfish.
Groups reward those who advance the greater good with status and esteem.
…which is the positivity of their reputation. Power and status often go together, but not always. Those with great status, even without traditional forms of power, can influence those who wield power.
Groups punish those who undermine the greater good, with gossip.
Enduring power comes from empathy.
You might be wondering, “what about Donald Trump?”
Read the author’s article that dispels the myths that people have power by behaving badly. Basically, their power is gained in the short-term, but their bad behavior will erode their power.
Enduring power comes from giving.
This can be done through sharing, encouraging, sacrificing, affirming, valuing, and giving responsibilities. One form of giving that is vastly undervalued but important to human beings is the power of a friendly touch. It has a calming and rewarding effect on others, and builds lasting bonds.
Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude.
This can be done “through emails, eye contact, deferential bows, and embraces, and by acknowledging and validating in public what someone has said. And like touch, these expressions of gratitude convey esteem, which activates the reward circuits and safety-related regions of the brain, and calms the stress-related regions of the nervous system. Through expressing gratitude, we build stronger ties within our social networks. Individuals who express gratitude, as groups are forming, have stronger ties within the group months later.”
Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite.
Good stories help make sense of life’s (and the group’s) challenges, and remind us of our identity and purpose.
Power leads to empathy deficits and diminished moral sentiments.
Studies show that the feeling of power neurologically diminishes the ability to relate to others’ emotions. Preventing this deficit in the powerful requires their continual practice of awareness and empathy. See the 3 prescriptions for mindful power, at the bottom of this post.
Power leads to self-serving impulsivity.
Power leads to incivility and disrespect.
Power leads to narratives of exceptionalism.
Powerlessness involves facing environments of continual threat.
Stress defines the experience of powerlessness.
Powerlessness undermines the ability to contribute to society.
Powerlessness causes poor health.
Three-Part Prescription for Mindful Power
- Practice noticing when you feel powerful, when you are having an impact / altering the state of another person or a group. By being more mindful of what power feels like (which we each experience everyday — see Principles 2 & 3 above), you can use it more wisely, and prevent your own abuses of power.
- Practice humility — stay healthily critical of your work. Be open to others’ critical feedback. Let others’ pushback be a signal for you to think about how you can improve, and use your power more positively.
- Practice being generous in ways that empower others. Share more, encourage others, be willing to sacrifice for others’ long-term well-being, affirm & validate others, give others responsibilities so they can grow, speak well of others in public and private, give gratitude to others, and understand the calming & bonding power of a friendly touch.
This was my brief, actionable summary of the book.
To learn more, I recommend these 2 articles, written by the author himself:
The power paradox (especially re: myths that bad behavior creates power)
And the book itself: The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence