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Dependence Principle


Principles > Dependence Principle

Principle | How it works | So what?



If you are dependent on me, I can use this as a lever to persuade you.

How it works

When people work together, each is more or less dependent on the other. This is the classic division of labor and the basis of our tribal and capitalist systems, with each person investing in one skill which is then shared for the common good.

A common pattern found in persuasive situations is an imbalanced dependence, where person A is more dependent on person B than vice versa. Person B can use this imbalance as a lever to persuade person A. Person B's power may even be expressed as the difference between A's and B's dependence.

This imbalance can lead to many forms of coercion, such as blackmail. It can also lead to forms of worship (such as pop fans fawning on their idols) and desperate attempts of the more dependent person to persuade the more powerful one. This imbalance can also lead to anger, betrayal and revenge, as the dependent person seeks to redress the balance.

Desired dependence

We start life as dependents, initially as helpless babies and later as children, learning so we can free ourselves from our mother's apron strings. But that early and comfortable existence continues to call us and many of us spend our lives trying to recreate those infant feelings of dependent safety.

A symptom of this is the way that groups of people will almost always end up with one leader and many happily-dependent followers.


Dependence is created when one person has more power than another. In particular control of knowledge and access to rare resources can lead to a queue of people lined up outside your door.


When we are confused or uncertain, we look to others for examples of what to do and for help.


Dependence can last a long time, such as where a childe is dependent on its parents. It can also be short-term, such as when you need someone to move so you can get past.


Dependence can also be absolute or temporary. Absolute dependence is where there is no alternative and the dependent person is fully dependent on the more powerful person, such as with a child and parent.

Most situations are not absolute and alternative arrangements can be found, although these may be more costly in money, time or other factors. For example if you will not move to let me past I can go another way, although this takes time and also has implications in terms of social position.


In a reversal of this principle, the dependent person can influence the person with power. If they can invoke the principle of rights and duties, they can position themselves as having the right to something and that the powerful person has the duty to supply this. This can be successful if the dependent person emphasizes their vulnerability and the social value that requires that the strong must take care of the vulnerable.

So what?

Build your knowledge and skills. Acquire control and other forms off power. This can also be used to free yourself from hazardous dependencies.

See also

Power, Needs, Uncertainty principle

Theories about groups

Theories about conforming

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