How to Dissect the Behaviors in a Power Struggle

Could we agree that encountering power struggles are part of life and work? In any given situation, there’s almost always the challenge of who’s holding the power. But, the true power for honorable leaders is understanding the unique DNA behavior behind a power struggle.

Power struggles are often at the core of my leadership coaching and consulting assignments. To an outside observer they can be very obvious, but when you are in one, you are blinded by the emotions—usually relating to a threatened ego.

“On the surface power struggles are all about being right. Underneath, they are touching emotional sore points that produce strong reactions.” [Tweet This]

Below you can see how emotions and behaviors can quickly spiral out of control. What is not seen is the circular motion cycling like a closed loop of one person’s behavior arousing the other person’s feelings (negative emotions), causing an ever escalating of emotions and behaviors as shown in the example below.

What’s the solution?

How do you avoid power struggles and how do you break them?

1. Recognize what is happening. Most likely you “know you are right” and believe very strongly that the other person is wrong. Check your attitude and energy. What are you thinking and feeling? Can you see that though the other person may be thinking differently, they are likely feeling similar to you? Recognize this is not a winnable battle and in fact the only way to win is to admit you have some responsibility for what is happening.

2. Humble yourself and take ownership for your part. As difficult as it may seem, this is the only way to come out of this battle ahead. When you admit that you are not perfect and that you have made some mistakes—which clearly you have—then the struggle is broken. But don’t be sparing and protective of yourself. Take ownership for everything you can think of that could possibly be your shortcoming or transgression.

Since this is such a common issue in my coaching and consulting work, we usually recommend individual coaching or team training using a behavioral assessment like Leadership Behavior DNA to get a baseline for personal awareness and development. Then, we combine everyone’s scores into a Performance Team Report that clearly reveals the specific differences between team members, how they process, interpret, and contribute to the team.

Changing Up the Power Game

This is where an illustration from judo can be very helpful.

If two people are pushing against each other as hard as they can—as in a power struggle—and one relaxes and steps back, the other person has to do something different or they will fall on their face. When you give it up and take ownership for being “wrong”, the other person cannot disagree with you. Well, actually they can and often do. Once you own your part, you free the other person to own their part and often they will actually disagree with you that it was entirely your fault. Now that’s real judo.

“…no conflict can be solved so long as all parties are convinced they are right. Solution is possible only when at least one party begins to consider how he might be wrong.”** [Tweet This]

The Humble Conclusion

There is great strength in understanding the unique behaviors in a power struggle. Do you have the courage and confidence needed to be humble and truly understand the other person? And what is your experience with power struggles? Please share your comments below.


**Source:  The Arbinger Institute, The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

Making Teams Better with Leadership Behavior DNA

This recent endorsement from one of our Leadership Behavior DNA clients says it all –

“Our executive team experienced significant growth in this training, resulting in a new level of trust and communications that exceeded our expectations. I’m thrilled to say we have become a more cohesive team that enjoys working together.” – Gerald Long, President, Georgia Farm Bureau

Ready to explore your options to personal and team dynamics? Contact an LBDNA Representative for a customized quote. 






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