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Equalizing Power Dynamics in the Workplace: Four Strategies for Navigating Unequal Power Dynamics



Power dynamics in the workplace can significantly impact an employee's ability to thrive in their role. When an employee feels trapped in an unequal power dynamic, it can be challenging to navigate while maintaining one's self-respect. However, it is crucial to remember that the placement of power is temporary, and there are ways to equalize it.


In this article, I will discuss four strategies that can be used to creatively pivot in the moment and equalize power dynamics while building the respect you deserve.


Four Strategies to Creatively Pivot in the Moment


The placement of power in a professional setting can heavily impact an employee's ability to thrive in their role and contribute to the organization's success. When an employee feels trapped in an unequal power dynamic, it can be challenging to navigate and excel while maintaining one's self-respect. However, it is crucial to remember that the placement of power is temporary, and there are ways to equalize it.


Below are four strategies to creatively pivot in the moment and equalize power dynamics while building the respect you deserve:

  1. Reframe the Connection: The first strategy is to reframe the connection. When someone is in a position of power, they often frame the connection in a way that benefits them. Instead of accepting their framing, reframe the connection in a way that benefits you. For example, if your boss is constantly asking you to take on more work, reframe the connection by saying, "I am happy to do this work, but I need your help prioritizing my workload." This approach reframes the connection by putting the onus on your boss to help you manage your workload.

  2. Use Humor: The second strategy is to use humor to equalize the power dynamic. Humor can be an effective way to diffuse tension and shift the perception of power. For example, if your boss is being overly critical of your work, you can respond with a lighthearted comment such as, "Well, I guess I won't be winning an award for this one." This approach uses humor to acknowledge the criticism while also shifting the tone of the conversation.

  3. Share Your Expertise: The third strategy is to share your expertise. When someone is in a position of power, they often discount the contributions of others. By sharing your expertise, you can demonstrate your value and equalize the power dynamic. For example, if your boss is proposing a new initiative, you can share your expertise by saying, "I have experience with a similar initiative, and I think we should consider these potential roadblocks." This approach demonstrates your expertise and value while also contributing to the success of the initiative.

  4. Set Boundaries: The fourth strategy is to set boundaries. When someone is in a position of power, they often push others to do more than they are comfortable with. By setting boundaries, you can equalize the power dynamic and demonstrate your self-respect. For example, if your boss is asking you to work overtime, you can set a boundary by saying, "I am not able to work overtime tonight, but I can come in early tomorrow to make up the time." This approach sets a boundary while also demonstrating your willingness to find a solution that works for both parties.


When It's Appropriate to Use each of these Four Strategies


Determining when to use each of these four strategies can be challenging. It is important to note that these strategies should be used in a professional manner and with careful consideration.

Reframing the connection is a strategy that can be used when someone in a position of power is framing the connection in a way that benefits them. This strategy can be appropriate when you need to assert your needs while maintaining a professional tone. It is important to use this strategy when you can clearly articulate your needs and present them in a way that is reasonable and respectful.


Using humor is a strategy that can be used to diffuse tension and shift the perception of power. This strategy can be appropriate when the situation allows for humor and it is used in a way that is not disrespectful or offensive. It is important to use this strategy when you have a good rapport with the person in power and when humor is likely to be well-received.

Sharing your expertise is a strategy that can be used to demonstrate your value and equalize the power dynamic. This strategy can be appropriate when you have relevant expertise that can contribute to the success of the organization. It is important to use this strategy when you have a clear understanding of the topic and when your input is likely to be well-received.

Setting boundaries is a strategy that can be used to equalize the power dynamic and demonstrate your self-respect. This strategy can be appropriate when you need to assert your boundaries while maintaining a professional tone. It is important to use this strategy when you have a clear understanding of your limits and when you can present them in a way that is reasonable and respectful.


These four strategies should be used with careful consideration and in a professional manner. It is important to determine which strategy is appropriate based on the situation and your relationship with the person in power. By using these strategies effectively, you can equalize the power dynamic while building the respect you deserve.


Situations Where Each Strategy Would Be Appropriate

Below are examples of situations where each of the four strategies may be appropriate:

  1. Reframing the connection: Imagine that you are in a meeting with your boss, who is proposing a new project that you feel is not feasible given your team's current workload. Your boss is framing the connection in a way that makes it seem like you and your team should be able to handle the additional work. In this situation, you could use the "reframe the connection" strategy by saying something like, "I appreciate the opportunity to work on this project, but I want to make sure that we are setting realistic expectations. Given our current workload, I am concerned that we won't be able to give this project the attention it deserves. Can we discuss how we might prioritize our tasks to make this happen?"

  2. Using humor: Imagine that you are in a meeting with your boss and a colleague who is known for being a bit of a know-it-all. Your boss keeps deferring to your colleague, even though you know that your colleague's suggestions are not the best course of action. In this situation, you could use the "using humor" strategy by saying something like, "Well, it looks like I won't be getting a word in edgewise today. [smiling] Maybe I should have brought a megaphone!"

  3. Sharing your expertise: Imagine that you are in a meeting with your boss and a team of colleagues to discuss a new marketing campaign. Your boss is proposing a strategy that you know from previous experience will not be effective. In this situation, you could use the "sharing your expertise" strategy by saying something like, "I appreciate the creativity of this approach, but I think we should consider some of the challenges we faced with a similar campaign in the past. Based on my experience with that campaign, I think we should consider a different approach."

  4. Setting boundaries: Imagine that you are working on a project with a tight deadline, and your boss keeps asking you to take on additional tasks that are not related to the project. In this situation, you could use the "setting boundaries" strategy by saying something like, "I appreciate your confidence in my abilities, but I need to focus on completing this project by the deadline. I won't be able to take on any additional tasks until this project is complete. Can we discuss these additional tasks after the deadline?"

Conclusion


Power dynamics in the workplace can be challenging to navigate, but using these four strategies can help equalize the power dynamic while building the respect you deserve. Reframe the connection, use humor, share your expertise, and set boundaries. Remember that the placement of power is temporary, and you have the ability to equalize it. By using these strategies effectively, you can thrive in your role and contribute to the success of your organization.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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