How Power Differentials Blind Smart People


Have you ever found yourself furious at a person or group below you in your organization, wondering, “Don’t they understand anything about what we do? Why do they look inward and fail to pay attention to our customers or industry conditions?” Do you begin your interactions with these people by assuming that they just don’t have anything valuable to contribute, or haven’t thought through their request? Do you put them down when talking to colleagues? Chances are, if you are like most people, you’d answer yes to at least some of these questions. Even the nicest people with the best intentions, when in a position of power, will give short shrift to people below them.

Or maybe you have been part of a group that feels manipulated; perhaps you’ve been asked to make recommendations, then you find that your suggestions are essentially ignored. Have you been furious but scared to confront the inauthentic manager who talks one way but acts quite another? Was this fear one of the reasons that caused you to stay silent?

It is remarkable how perfectly caring and smart people can be dramatically affected when they are on either side of a relationship in which a substantial power differential exists. This chapter and the next will show how these dynamics work, how both relatively high-power people and relatively low-power people impact each other in ways that can impair both parties—including the apparent winners on the higher ...

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