Power is not a singular attribute but a tricky intersection between the power of the person and the power of the role. I’ve written elsewhere about this tricky problem of the fit between the power of the person and the power of the role, the interaction of power and status.

Poor use of power most often stems from a dissonance between the personal power of the one in the role and the power of the role itself.

Now a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows how this dynamic happens in a research study. The implications of this are vast and useful for everything from ethics in corporate governance to bullying in schools.

What makes it even trickier is that status is not static; it fluctuates depending on many factors. Under threat and attack, our status can go down. In fact, under threat, when triggered, it’s common to regress to the place where we have been hurt or wounded, because that is where we learned to defend ourselves. This is why power needs to come with a User’s Guide: We regress to our place of lowest status, and from there, reach for our biggest rank to defend ourselves.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Eileen Clark says:

    Hi Julie
    I was thinking when I read the article that low status can occur even among corporate bankers (probably not news to anyone else but a revelation in my mind!) i.e. no matter how high up the ladder we go we can still pervieve ourselves as less than or as having less than another. This of course made me realise that status is indeed an internal reality. I thought in the first instance of corporate bankers because of the greed and abuse of power that is going on in that realm currently and reading about this study helped some things click in to place for me. We are all insecure about something in the end! Some people have the means to try and compensate for their insecurity in ways that damage and prevent them from gaining awareness, or even gaining the desire for awareness.

    • juliediamond says:

      Hi Eileen, yes, that’s the intriguing thing about power v. status – our inner experiences of power operate, oddly enough, independently from our position or power. And how we compensate for this goes directly to our use of power.

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