Stressful Power Imbalances: Mastering the Art of Persuasion

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October 1999

Stressful Power Imbalances: Mastering the Art of Persuasion


Information is power. Power will always dominate the social and hierarchical relations among people in organizations. Most organizations tend to hide how power is used to get results in the inner workings of their corporation. In his article “When Persuasion Fails: Coping with Power Struggles,” (Technical Communication, Third Quarter 1999), Patrick Moore discusses some approaches to gaining power through persuasion and what to do when persuasion fails.

Technical communicators sometimes feel powerless because of the outside view that they work in support positions and are merely a cost. Often, technical communicators are under the supervision of engineers, with the engineers dictating that writing should be technical rather than understandable. Thus begins the power struggle.

Sometimes persuasion doesn’t work when a stubborn gatekeeper is motivated by self-interest, professional jealousy, or some other insipid variable. You know your ideas can be effective and further the organization, but the gatekeeper doesn’t care about doing the right thing. This situation can be analyzed in six interconnected variables of power:

1 The players include the gatekeeper and people directly/indirectly involved in the power struggle.

2 The goals of the players often clash with those of others.

3 The stakes are whatever may be potentially lost/gained in the competition for power.

4 The resources are tools to achieve a goal (money, job promotion, and so on)

5 The values are the relative worth, usefulness, or importance of some behavior, standard, material, or belief.

6 The obstacles to gaining power can be any mentioned above.

When you see a power struggle beginning to occur, recognize the limits of persuasion and think ahead. If the six variables of power fail, you have four other options:

1 Go over his/her head to someone with greater power and see whether that individual can help.

2 Change the parameters (rules, climate, environment, and so on) to force gatekeepers to change their decisions.

3 Take the risk-do what you think is right, and hope for the best.

4 Leave it alone once you’ve analyzed the situation, the six power variables, and realize this is the only decision you can make.

Dealing with power imbalances requires good judgment and an ability to balance out the variables to maximize the benefits to all players involved. CIDMIconNewsletter