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Three Dimensions of Power


Explanations > Power > Three Dimensions of Power

Channels | Intent | Deliberateness | Uses of power | So what?


There are three dimensions of power in action, with two, two and three possible states. This gives 2 x 2 x 3 possible combinations, which gives 12 ways of using power.


The channels of power are the way in which power is enacted. They can perhaps more readily be remembered as 'head, hands and heart'.

Physical power

This is power derived from material or physical advantage. Individually, it can come from strength or skill, such as the power of a wrestler. It can also come from having weapons, which can be the ultimate power of groups and governments.

Physical power also comes from having things that are not designed to hurt people. Owning a building or a machine or even a sewing needle are forms of physical power.

Informational power

This is derived from knowledge. For example if I know your weaknesses I could leverage this knowledge when trying to persuade you, or maybe help you learn and shore up those weaknesses.

Power often comes from the control of access to information, where you can permit or offer access to others. Knowledge is power, as they say.

Emotional power

This is the social power of affect, using emotion to get what you want. Charisma is a form of emotional power, including the power of oratory and the use of subtle body language.

Threats are often emotional in the effect they have. In fact most interactions between people include some form of emotional power.


These form the intent of the person using power, helping or hurting others.

Positive power

This is power used for good, with the intent of helping others. It is used to protect and nurture, or at least do no harm. It is based on love, care, concern and pro-social values.

Negative power

This power that is used either to directly harm other people or with no care or concern about them. It is based either on greed and selfishness or on other negative emotions such as fear and hate.


These are the deliberateness of power, the triggers which lead to power being used.

Reactive power

This is power that is used in response to situations, for example where a person has the power to say no or to restrict access in some form. This power cannot be utilized that until someone else wants something that can be blocked.

In some countries, crimes are considered as being less so when they are deemed as being reactive. Thus, in France, 'crimes of passion' are dealt with more leniently than over the water in Britain.

Proactive power

This is power used consciously and deliberately, for example using your physical strength to attack someone. This is where Values, Morals and Ethics are more significant, as they imply deliberate intent, premeditation and forethought.

Uses of power

Put together, these three domains of power can be used to create the table below. It's a neat way of understanding how different forms of power appear.


Uses of power

Physical Informational Emotional
Reactive Positive Do no harm Open book
Allow access
Respond to calls for help
Negative Allow harm Do not inform
Deny access
Reject calls
Proactive Positive Defend Inform, teach
Warn of danger
Negative Attack
Do harm
Withhold information
Blackmail, deceive

So what?

Understand your channels and sources of power. What physical strengths do you have? What material things? What information or control of access to information? What emotional sway?

Understand your intent: are you intending harm or help? If you want to help, then remember to at least do no harm.

Understand where you can act proactively and when you can only react--or perhaps choose not to react.

Then make deliberate choices as to what power you will use or not use, and in what way.

Also apply this analysis to other people, and then work out ways to neutralize their negative power. Also think about how to appeal to them to use their power positively.

See also

Head, hands and heart preferences


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