Cultivating reciprocal power bases

Learn how to manage others’ power over you and influence tactics such as chemistry and benefits-oriented requests.

Manage others’ power over you

Power is given. That also includes power you give to others. You will allow the organisation a certain amount of power over your time and talents in exchange for benefits you expect to receive. When expectations from either side are not communicated and consequently not met, power relationships get out of balance. Though managers try to exercise a great deal of power over your time and your life, you choose how much control they have.

You will find that many things are negotiable, but there are two very critical times: when you are discussing the terms of hire and after you have a track record of success at meeting deadlines and reaching goals. Without a lot of solid experience or accomplishments in your background, it is unlikely that you will have much input for changes in terms of hire offered by the company. However, a polite question may uncover a policy already in place that suits your situation.

Negotiating anything requires a healthy respect for the power of each of the participants. Your manager can dictate certain aspects of how you spend your time and where you direct your energies. Once you become valuable, two-way influence can emerge, allowing you more freedom to define areas that might have been strictly under manager’s sphere of control before.

As you cultivate your power bases in the company, remember that those people who are willing to take you into their inner circle and help you, also expect a favourable response to their own requests.

Learn influence tactics


In the case of chemistry, the “boss” likes you - there is a rapport or attraction of some sort. When this occurs, you may very quickly find yourself on the inside of decisions and information. However, you may not be very popular with the “outsiders”. The manager will give you more time, but also will assign you work to do that falls under manager’s responsibilities, meaning longer hours and more to manage on your part. You will get an opportunity to build a more impressive resume based on the breadth of what you were allowed to do.

Benefits-oriented requests

This is a technique called the “three-cornered hat”. It is useful when you want to influence an outcome, such as to gain someone’s support for your idea or to get someone to perform a task that you need. The method is based on three premises:

1. People are for the most part self-serving. They must take care of their own responsibilities. Doing something for you takes time and energy away from those pursuits.

2. People are not motivated to use creativity to meet your needs. Even people who might be inclined to do things you need are not devoting creative thought to figuring out how they can help you. Thus, they are not likely to think ahead and anticipate your needs.

3. You can choose to be “right” or you can choose to be effective. Instead of worrying about being right, use techniques that will move to action those from whom you need services or equipment or assistance.

When people's needs and your goals fit together, they act on your behalf. If you can be creative enough to explain to the person you are attempting to influence how fulfilling your request will help serve that purpose, then you can expect action.

You will have to use your own creativity and ability to see the larger picture of your needs and others’ to make this work. That particular pair of abilities is very much a part of what makes a good manager or project leader. Thus, learning this technique as a new employee will help you as you seek to gain more control over your career path.

Adapted from

McKee, S.L. and Walters, B.L., 2002. Transition management: A practical approach to personal and professional development. Prentice Hall.

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