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Not many people like to admit that sometimes, in some situations, they may be a teeny bit powerful.

Power’s got a bad rap in our culture, we equate being powerful with being a monster so we shrink away from the concept completely. But this aversion does no one any favours, in fact it’s dangerous.

If for the moment we went along with the simplified definition of power as being able to influence and/or control one’s environment, it’s not actually a bad thing in and of itself.

You want to get anything done; you need power.

You want your opinions heard; you need power.

You want to make choices about your own life; you need power.

It’s how we use power – how we get things done, how we express our opinions, and how we make our choices – that gives power a bad name. In general our collective power literacy is so low, we get around unconsciously misusing the stuff and hurting each other, without a clue what’s going on.

In her book Power A User’s Guide (which I review here), author Julie Diamond calls these rank fouls. She defines them as “unconscious actions carried out by someone with high rank, good intentions, and benign neglect.”

Many of us can easily think of a time when we felt outranked, or put down, by another person’s misuse of power; a victim of their rank foul.

But not many of us can remember when we fouled someone else.

This is partly due to the fact that power is inherently blinding. It’s blinding because it’s relaxing, and because others with less power adjust themselves to work around you so you don’t notice it’s impact.

The other reason is that we often don’t feel as powerful as others’ perceive us to be, or there is a gap between our knowing we have high rank, and actually feeling that rank and its associated privileges.

Power is complex though. We don’t get power from just one characteristic or situation. Our power, or more accurately, our rank, is relative to those we are around and the context. And because we all have multiple rank characteristics (see my one-page explainer about rank characteristics here), we can simultaneously have higher and lower rank than someone else, just in different areas.

But how to become aware of your rank and power (so you can foul less often)? Here’s a great power spotting list for signals that appear in interpersonal communication contexts that indicate whether you are in higher or lower rank in the moment:

Signs of high rank can include:

  • You feel relaxed
  • You’re rational and cool
  • You think the other person is over-reacting, being emotional, or is to blame
  • You feel free to speak up or take your own side
  • You expect that your opinions will be well regarded
  • You dismiss other’s reactions (they are too sensitive, needy etc)
  • You’re at ease with eye contact
  • Your posture is relaxed

Signs of low rank can include:

  • You don’t feel free to speak
  • You’re confused, go blank, or fumble with your words
  • You get emotional or out of control
  • You take things personally
  • You feel invisible
  • Others don’t listen to your suggestions
  • You feel responsible for other people’s mood or well-being
  • You can’t make eye contact


And if you want even more insight into personal power;

  1. Read the list of rank characteristics here, and reflect on what characteristics you have that are aligned to mainstream cultural preferences (that gives you high rank in those areas) and in what contexts these help you feel more or less powerful
  2. Get a hold of Power A Users Guide here – it’s full of fantastic reflective exercises to build power awareness (not an affiliate link, just a great book)
  3. Come along to one of my workshops of power (check out Programs & Events to see if I have one coming up).


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