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Power and Consequence


Explanations > Power > Power and Consequence

Punishment | Prevention | Power loss | So what?


Power and consequence are often closely related. The basic principle is that a person with power has the ability to create consequences for the target person, who takes these consequences into account when they are deciding whether to comply with a request or refuse it.


A very common attribute of power is that the wielder of power has the ability to coerce the target into compliance through the threat of some kind of punishment. The basic transaction is hence 'Do as I say or else I will harm you in some way'. The person is then faced with the choice of obedience or suffering the consequences that the powerful person can create.

Punishment can take many forms. In a business setting it can be as direct as being sacked or less obvious in the way that the target person may be given work that is less desirable than that they might get if they complied with the request.


Some people do not have the power to directly punish, though they may have the ability to withhold something or prevent the target person getting what they want. The transaction here is 'Do as I say or else you will not get what you want'.

Prevention in business situations could be loss of cooperation or stopping the person from getting promoted. It is also seen in 'gateway' roles, for example a personal assistant who has the power to allow others to speak with their manager or turning the target person away.

Power loss

There is also consequence for the person wielding the power. Sometimes use power of power leads to gaining more power as the dominated person becomes cowed and hence easier to persuade in future. Sometimes the use of power has no effect on the balance of power in the future. And sometimes there is negative consequences for the person using the power, in that in using power it is spent, like money, and may not be easy to regain.

An example of losing power when it is used is where you have helped a person in the past and they feel obliged to comply when you ask something of them in return. When they agree to your request, they then feel the obligation has been discharged and hence you have less power over them.

So what?

Understand what ability you have when attempting to wield power, particularly in terms of how you can punish or prevent the other person from getting what they want. When we forget this, we may not have in practice the full power we could have. When we can create consequences and the other person does not, then there may need to be a learning cycle for them.

Also understand how your power is increased or decreased when you use it. This may depend on your attitude and that of the other person, and is not always clear.


Obligation principle


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