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May 15, 2014

Power from Within Versus Power-Over

IStock_000001213984_ExtraSmallOur world functions in a power-over paradigm. We confuse power with aggression and standing up for ourselves with stepping on others. World leaders, men, women, professional athletes, politicians and on and on, often move in power over others in an effort to get them to agree with their demands. Our world teaches us that yelling, intimidating and overall bullying others is okay if it serves our own needs. We snap at employees, tell our loved ones to shut up, shame our school children for mistakes, yell and scream at those we feel aren’t listening and bully those who struggle to stand their ground. We’re taught that sometimes the only way to be heard is to get BIG.

In the short run, this power-over paradigm often works. It succeeds in getting us what we want. People cower to our rage, they give in to our demands and many shrink to our intimidation. For the moment, we “win.” People back down, give us space and give in.

We forget to notice, however, what it feels like to the person on the other side. In that moment, we don’t really care that they gave in out of fear. We don’t care that people don’t like to be bullied, shut down or not listened to. We don’t stop to notice how our intensity or our rage silenced their voice. We only notice whether we got our way.

Moving in power over someone is a funny thing because it gets us what we want while at the same time harming what we have. Intimidating others or moving in intensity often leads others to bristle, stand back, shut up and give in. Ironically, these are the positives of moving in power over others. The flip side of this is that, eventually, the intimidation, bouts of anger and lack of calm, create a huge toll on a person and certainly on a relationship. No one likes to be bullied. No one likes to have others move in power over him or her. No one likes to be discounted, squashed or silenced. No one.

So here’s the thing about power: power is NOT synonymous with aggression. Unlike the messages our world sends that lead people to think they need to get LOUDER and BIGGER in order to be effective and “powerful,” I believe that quite the opposite is true. True power comes from within a person, NOT over a person. We do not need to intimidate others to be heard or yell and scream to be effective. We do need to know what we’re willing to accept and not accept, what we believe and don’t believe and what we want and don’t want. We then need to be able to confidently stand behind those lines — calmly and respectfully.

Power-from-within is about knowing what is and is not okay for you and then walking in the world in a way that supports that knowledge.  Rather than bashing the other person with your anger – in reaction to them bashing you with theirs — stay calm, matter-of-fact and grounded in your messages. Allow the other person to have their reaction and don’t change your resolve as a result of their response. A Grounded Powerful Strength (GPS) will change your relationships and your life.

Challenge: Step into conflict, your life and your relationships with a GPS rather than an aggressive stance. Start shifting your power paradigm—move from a power-over template to a power-from-within one and watch your life and relationships change.


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For me, one of your most important posts.

Bold and overpowering force in a conflict was what I was taught and lived as a child. I still default to it at times. This post has outlined a clear path to using calm strength when speaking up.

Thank you for the clarity!

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