Eldred's Power Strategies
Finding the Best Way to Exert Power
If you want a successful career, you need to engage with your colleagues effectively. But, sadly, such close work doesn't always come easily.
You may have to work with people who have entirely different – or conflicting – priorities, or have much more (or much less) power than you.
Perhaps someone who's several grades above you wants to guide you in a certain direction. Or perhaps there's a junior member of your team who's eager to push forward his or her own ideas.
John Eldred, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, developed a model to explain how you can exert personal power in mutually beneficial ways. This article walks you through it.
The Power Strategies Model
Eldred's model presents four strategies that can help you to have an impact on other people. These strategies are shown in figure 1. The vertical axis represents the power balance between two individuals – the power balance is high where the two people are equally powerful, and low where one is weak and the other is strong.
The horizontal axis represents the extent to which people's goals conflict (low confluence) or complement one another (high confluence).
"Goal confluence" doesn't mean that both people have the exact same goal. The idea is that people's goals are moving in the same general direction. If one person reaches his or her goal, it doesn't affect the other person's ability to also reach his goal.
According to Eldred, people who hold a similar degree of power and share similar goals are ideally placed to cooperate or collaborate (Eldred uses both terms). They can set aside their personal objectives in order to support one another and to work toward the most mutually beneficial outcomes. Of the four power strategies, this is the most productive.
Collaboration can be more difficult when individuals are equally powerful but have mismatched goals. However, it's usually possible to negotiate, compromise and find some common ground.
When goals are alike, but one person has more power than the other, both can still exert influence. The power differential matters less, because both are working toward the same objectives. They can help one another practically and improve one another’s performance.
However, in situations where one person is more powerful than the other, and where goals conflict, the stronger individual may dominate the weaker. Squashing the other person – or being squashed – will lead to resentment, stress, and negative behavior. This is a "lose-lose" position.
Human relationships are complex, and Eldred's Power Strategies model may represent only one part of the picture. See our article on Transactional Analysis for another view on the roles that we play when we come into contact with one another.
How to Use Eldred’s Power Strategies
Each of your relationships will have its own power dynamics and a unique combination of objectives and ambitions. Understanding Eldred's Power Strategies can help you to have a positive impact on each one.
Step 1: Assess the Balance of Power
You may already understand the power balance between you and another person. For example, some relationships are formalized, and the individuals' relative roles (such as team leader and team member) reveal the balance of power.
However, sometimes power doesn't always stem from an individual's position in a hierarchy, so it's worth examining the balance of power between you. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who has most influence when you take decisions together?
- Who has the final say?
- Who is most likely to start important discussions?
- Who tends to lead conversations?
- Do levels of power vary by domain? For example, might you control financial decisions but the other person holds sway over operational strategy?
Our infographic, French and Raven’s Five Forms of Power, can help you to consider other bases of power and power relationships.
Step 2: Compare and Contrast Your Goals
There are no hard-and-fast rules about how to define the degree of "goal confluence" in a relationship. You could, for example, compare and contrast one another’s project-specific objectives, or jointly examine your personal mission statements.
Alternatively, you could simply sit down for an informal, open-ended chat about what you're both aiming for in your careers. The important point is to be open, honest and clear about the goals and objectives that you both have within your shared area of interest.
Step 3: Identify Your Most Effective Power Strategy
Plot the power balance and goal confluence in your relationship onto Eldred's Power Strategies grid. This will identify the most effective strategy for exerting personal power within your particular relationship.
If your goals are similar, and power is balanced or shared between you, the best way to move forward for mutual benefit is to collaborate (rather than to compete). A natural dynamic of cooperation exists between you.
Once you've started a process of collaboration, don't be complacent. Invest time and effort to sustain your relationship, and to promote the outcome of your collaboration. You might be able to use it as a model for goal-achieving behavior in others.
If you've realized that negotiation is the best way to exert power within your relationship, you might first need to call a truce. Establishing common ground needs to be your next priority. Then, focus on the big picture beyond your own goals, and keep the lines of communication open.
If influence is your best way forward, ask how you might be able to inform one another, and look for ways to publicly support the other. You could even consider offering your services as a mentor. Be careful, though, to avoid confusing influence with coercion.
But, should your power balance and goal confluence be low, you may already know that you're dominating or being dominated by the other person. This situation can be uncomfortable for everyone, and it needs to be addressed.
So, you could try:
Redressing the power balance. How you do this will depend on the nature of the power in question. If one person has what French and Raven call "informational" or "expert" power, they could make information available or help the weaker individual to develop knowledge.
But, if the power in question is "reward based" or "coercive," fixing the imbalance could be difficult. It'll likely be addressed only with a promotion or other formal reallocation of power.
Power imbalances are sometimes more perceived than real. If you suspect this might be the case, learning to be more assertive might help.
However, when domination spills into bullying, be sure to take action. Our article, Dealing with Bullying, offers guidance on what to do.
- Aligning goals and objectives. Searching for shared values – and realigning both people's goals with team and organizational objectives, values and standards – are effective ways to increase your goal confluence. Bear in mind that aligning personal goals can be more challenging, and it may not be possible, despite the best efforts of all those involved.
Easing the situation. Ask yourself the following questions:
- If there is conflict and distrust, why is it happening?
- What am I doing to contribute to the negative feelings? Am I, for example, acting without considering the impact on less powerful people?
- Have I given in to dominant people in the past? Does that experience influence my behavior today?
- If I can't align my goals with those of other people, could I at least edge them closer?
Making a bigger change. Sometimes, it's not possible to redress a power balance or to bring goals into alignment. You might prefer to distance yourself than to work within a domineering situation. You could start to focus on your relationships elsewhere in the organization.
If you lead a team, keep your team dynamics in mind, practice servant leadership, and focus on the needs of others before you consider your own. Help your team to understand other people and their goals, look for ways to make communication easier, and address any bad behavior that you notice.
Conflicting goals and unbalanced power can create an environment that's full of tension and distrust. When you get too focused on your direction, or too reliant on your power, you may forget to consider how others see your determination and hard work.
But life doesn't have to be like that. Be aware of how power and goals interact, and use Eldred's model to pick the best strategy.
Redress any damaging imbalances, and be sure to communicate what you want, and why you want it. Then show that you're prepared to help others to achieve what they want, too.
But, be prepared to make bigger changes if collaboration, negotiation or influence are impossible.