Friday, February 1, 2013

5 Interpersonal Bases of Power

The concept and study of power is an interesting field of academic inquiry.  With today's employees increasingly relying on others not in their immediate sphere of control to get work done, it benefits the worker who studies the underlying positions of power.

Two social psychology professors named John French and Bertram Raven studied the concepts of power dynamics and categorized them into 5 bases; legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, and referent.

Legitimate Power
Legitimate power is a person's ability to influence because of position.  Your direct supervisor has legitimate power since that's how your company has arranged it.  This is essentially the most simple and basic concept of power.

Reward Power
Reward power occurs when someone has the ability to grant another something they like in return for compliance.  This kind of power can often be related to bribing.  Companies often rule with this type of power through the granting of raises, company stock, or job titles.

Coercive Power
This is the opposite of reward power, and instead implies the power to punish.  Generally, this is the weaker form of power, but still has its purpose.

Expert Power
This is the power to influence others based on some special form of experience or education.  I can still remember how intimidated I was when I first had to meet privately with one of my professors back in college.  Who was I to have a discussion with someone who was a literal expert in their field?  I felt this way, because the professor had expert power.

Referent Power
This type of power is a little harder to characterize.  Generally speaking, referent power is based on charisma due to personality or style of behavior.  Many times, good politicians have referent power in that they inspire people to follow them or believe in their concepts.  This type of power is much harder to quantify and achieve, but I believe that this has the greatest influence over people.  You are essentially giving people a "why" as in why they should be listening to you.  You inspire them, and grant them a vision they wish to emulate.  For that reason, this type of power seems the most influential to me.

Each one of the 5 types of power has their purpose, and it would significantly benefit someone to know when to use each one of these concepts.  It's also good to understand what types of power people around you wield.  If you know this, then you know whether or not you will be able to continue to grant them power.

Wonderful Moment of the Day: Going skiing tomorrow for the first time...wish me luck!

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