The Science of Power in Business

Let’s start with a simple experiment. Imagine three different scenarios.

One where you are in conversation with a close friend. He has had a bad day at work and he immediately calls you right after work to accompany him for a drink at a local bar. As usual, you two get talking, he rants about his day, eases into the drink along with you and you end the night as usual, on a high, to begin your next day at work.

Second, where you are sitting at home in the comfort of your living room, on a Sunday morning, just after breakfast, Netflix on the go. And the bell rings, which is usually uncalled for. It’s an aquaguard salesman who wishes to give you a demo of a new water purifier product that his company has just launched.

Third, you are driving to work early in the morning. You happen to unknowingly jump a signal and the cop catches you. While you are now preparing to seize the day at work, here’s an unanticipated situation that you absolutely don’t wish to encounter. As you prepare to have a tough conversation with him, you are determined to convince him of the truth that you overlooked the signal. As you finally roll down the window, you get going with your small speech, he listens patiently and immediately leaves you with a warning.

Let’s look at each of these daily life situations with one lens. The lens of predictability.

In the first one, when your friend called you, you enjoyed the pleasure of being someone who he confided in, after a bad day. The usual post work night at a local bar was perhaps a regular scene. You were in a comfortable zone of knowing him, personally and hence didnt think twice before going out. There was a sense of security in being aware of everything around, rather being in control of your evening. Not just that, you perhaps also knew how to be a good listener and where to butt in to get him out of his bad mood and turn it into delight. It was a relatively predictable evening in some way. Had it been an unknown person or a client from work, things would’ve been very different than it was with your friend. Friendship led you to predict almost everything to the extent that you wanted to visualise in your head. All of this happened very subconsciously. You didn’t really have to put in any effort into it. Also because this wasn’t the first time it was happening. There was a part of you who enjoyed the evening for the power you felt on being in control of the situation. 

In the second story, while you were fully aware of your sunday rituals, the doorbell was unpredictable by all means. You had no intention of entertaining a salesman, also because you had doubts in the genuinity of his sale. He was perhaps only there to complete his day’s target and you had assessed the situation well before he even spoke. Perhaps his attire and the product that he was holding in his hand was a give away. You had experienced several such instances in the past, not just yourself but also through your parents while growing up. You exactly knew how it would end if you gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his product. Also, the fact that you were in control of the situation in some way, because you were the customer, gave you a sense of subconscious power over the situation and more so, over the salesman.

In the third incident, while you were prepping to talk your way through your mistake, you were also prepared for an argument or perhaps a fine. The fact that you could wade your way through your conversation, was uncomfortably satisfying. There was a feeling of accomplishment and it felt as if you had done the right thing. You felt powerful and there was a sense of positivity established in your mind about the whole situation.

Human mind works a lot on experiences that one may have had in the past. Cognitive thinking abilities are a result of our experiences, positive and negative.In your daily life, most people enjoy the routine. As much as they’d like to be characterised as unique and diverse, you like it when things happen in a certain way. That very sense of being able to predict your day is comforting. Now if you could predict this with someone you know (like your friend) or for an outcome that you’re almost sure of (like a salesman at your doorstep), you’d feel even more privileged. It’s because you feel authoritative in some dilute way over the situation. It elevates your ego and gives you a dopamine hit.

Imagine if this was to happen with someone you don’t know. Out of all the three stories, the satisfaction experienced with the policeman, who let you off the hook for a mistake you committed, had a massive positive impact on your mood. Even though temporarily, it would elevate your ego and you would want to even describe this anecdote to your colleagues at work.

In the business world, similar instances have a positive or negative impact on decision making. If you are in a position of wanting to make a sale or keen for a decision to pass and not in control of the decision itself, it’s best to let the other person feel empowered with predictability.

Inherently humans enjoy power in any form. We like to control situations and even so, people to some extent. It gives us a feeling of comfort and security if you can predict the outcome. As you would if you were out drinking with a close friend.

In fact being able to let the other person take control of the situation may work in your favour. But there’s a subtle difference between letting off control and being pushed over. It’s easier to establish a rapport with people when you allow them to believe that you are predictable. They enjoy the power (illusionary) that they hold over your actions or words, even if it’s for a little while. When they see you as vulnerable is when they truly feel disarmed and unguarded.

It’s used as a business powerplay in various situations. But needless to say, there’s a thin line that one could cross and lose absolute control of the situation. Being predictable is a weapon, if used intelligently.

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