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Influence, Power, & Politics

Power and Dependency

We often think of power as a possession rather than a function of the relationship between people.  The problem with this formulation is that it gives the impression that the person with less power is stuck with the raw end of the stick, so to speak.  That is, until such time as he or she wrests the power away from the one who has possession of it, often through conflict.

Sometimes that is how power relations change.  But much of the power we don’t have is because we’ve given it away freely.  We have chosen to depend on someone else for something of value.  Perhaps it’s praise, validation, love, support, or something more tangible.  If we are unaware of the extent to which we give away power, and insufficiently wary of the type of recipient, we foster our own powerlessness.

What does this mean?  It means that whenever we ask permission, for example, from someone who is not likely to provide it, we give that person power.  If he or she is the only person who can provide the thing we seek, then it’s not unusual feel that there is no hope.  Instead, we might ask whether (1) what we seek is truly as valuable as we think and/or (2) whether the recalcitrant source of it is actually the only one available.

If you seek validation for work from an immediate boss who is not inclined to provide it, you give him or her the power to make you miserable.  Why do that?  Is this validation really so important that you should expose yourself to repeated refusals?  Can you delay until another source option becomes available?

If the validation is crucial now, then consider exploring new avenues for obtaining it.  Can others where you work provide the encouragement you need?  Have you considered seeking similar validation through volunteer work, from friends, family or even from yourself?  To the extent that dependence on the person who refuses to provide what you want can be diminished or removed, power is as well.

Much of what makes us miserable in life comes from seeking what others won’t or can’t give us.  By continuing to let them determine our happiness, we give power to the wrong people.  When feeling deprived of something important, consider whether you’ve given power to the wrong person or people.  It may seem at first that there is no choice.  But it can be wonderfully freeing to discover that indeed there is and that choice puts power back in your hands.

Photo:  Michal Kowalski/


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