Lucio Buffalmano, head of The Power Moves, pioneered “power dynamics” alongside his community as a novel approach to social skills.
One might ask, “Why power?”
Well, power is the measure to which an individual can get what they want. And, power dynamics helps people in a wide variety of social situations better negotiate power with their counterparts and groups, ethically using concepts and principles from social science.
Therefore, this new system for social skills—power dynamics—is necessary to experience any sort of lasting social success and/or goal achievement.
So, handing the mic to Lucio now, let’s get into some of his wisdom.
Why Power Dynamics is The Most Important Self-Help Discipline
Most people-related resources shy away from power.
At The Power Moves, we instead believe that you can’t be socially skilled without learning and understanding power dynamics.
Becoming a high-value individual also entails mastering power dynamics.
It’s a contradiction in terms to think one can be high-value without being powerful, in one way or another.
So, let’s start by defining power dynamics:
Definition: Power dynamics refers to the science and analyses of power negotiation among people and groups, as well as the strategies that facilitate the achievement of goals.
And I will define power as:
Definition: Power is the ability to achieve predefined goals.
This definition also shows that power, in and on itself, is agnostic, and it’s neither good nor bad.
It’s all about how you use it.
Both the definitions of power dynamics and power are very broad, and purposefully so.
As such, power dynamics includes the study of:
- Strategies to reach an end or goal
- The negotiation of conflicting interests
- The cooperation among individuals to reach goals
- Influence and persuasion, as well as manipulation
- The negotiation of status between individuals and within groups
- The formation and acquisition of rank titles within structured hierarchies
Power dynamics applies to many of the major areas of human socialization:
- Leadership Power Dynamics
- Social Power Dynamics
- Seduction Power Dynamics
- Relationship Power Dynamics
- Workplace Power Dynamics
For the purposes of this article, we’ll primarily focus on covering how power dynamics applies to the area of human socialization that applies most to networking: social power dynamics.
An Introduction to Social Power Dynamics
Social power dynamics is:
Definition: The study of power dynamics among people, either in group interactions, or in 1:1 interactions.
Social power dynamics and social skills are similar, but we at The Power Moves believe the following:
Definition: You are not really going to become socially skilled unless you learn power dynamics.
- People respect more those who, to them, seem to be “high power”
- You can only be effective with others when you learn how to persuade
- Unless you learn power dynamics, you can easily become a victim of manipulation
Social skills courses and books address the basic level of “social skills”.
The advanced level is power dynamics.
Of course, some social skills teachers scoff at social power dynamics.
They think of it as the “sociopath” approach to social skills. They’re not fully right, but they’re not fully wrong, either. But to me, that’s exactly the reason why people must learn power dynamics.
If you don’t, the sociopaths of this world will always move ahead of you (and they are already doing so!).
You lose, and we all lose.
I repeat, yet again, one of the mantras of my website from “The Prince”:
Quote: A good person is ruined among the great numbers who are not good
So wake up and smell the coffee of life, “nice guys”.
You can’t go through life as a lamb, hoping that you will never meet a wolf. Don’t be a lamb instead.
Or, even better, keep being a friendly lamb, but carry concealed.
First, we start with “Power Accountancy”.
As a definition:
Definition: Power accountancy refers to the attitude and skills to track and analyze power dynamics, and to leverage that analysis to select the best course of action to achieve your goals.
Advanced social strategists use power accountancy to make sure they’re presenting themselves to the world as friendly, high-power (high-value) individuals.
However, power accountancy first needs a certain level of emotional and social intelligence, and an awareness of power dynamics (“Power Intelligence“).
The Power Moves and Power University help you develop both your awareness of power dynamics and your attitude and skills to influence them.
Traffic Light System
Not all power moves are the same.
The first major difference is that some behavior is empowering, while some is disempowering:
- Empowering: gives you power
- Disempowering: takes your power away
Since disempowering behavior is more dangerous, we differentiate it further.
Some behavior is almost meaningless and you might even “let it slip”, while other behavior can be highly disempowering and requires immediate corrective action.
A simplified system to learn, understand, and categorize power dynamics is the “traffic light system”:
The traffic light helps you better understand and analyze power dynamics.
From micro to macro, use it to classify individual power moves, interactions, relationships, and people.
As an example for each, imagine the following behaviors in an office:
- Empowering green: a colleague tells you: “I will drop my other tasks and send you that document ASAP”
- Disempowering yellow: the boss tells you loudly and in front of the team “send me that document ASAP please”
- Disempowering orange: a colleague tells you loudly and in front of the team “send me that document ASAP please”
- Disempowering red: a report tells you, the boss, loudly and in front of the team “send me that document ASAP please”
We purposefully used the same example to highlight an important property of power dynamics:
Context Determines Intensity
What’s yellow, orange, or red is contextual.
To explain the power dynamics of the previous examples:
Empowering: a colleague who drops his other tasks is giving you top priority and treating you like a superior with more important things to do.
Sub-communication: “You’re important and higher power.”
Disempowering yellow: the boss is supposed to give you tasks, and everyone already knows that he is officially above you in the power hierarchy.
So there is little loss when he tasks you.
But still, there are degrees of power and status even in structured hierarchies.
So when he tasks you in a curt manner, it shows he has little respect, and that makes it slightly disempowering.
Sub-communication: “You’re most certainly below me, and I do treat you like you’re below me.”
Disempowering orange: a colleague is at your same level, and usually not supposed to task you.
So when he tasks you without power protection, that is quite disempowering for you.
If it becomes a habit, it starts becoming a reality that he is above you (“cementing”). And when promotion time comes, it’s probably not you who’s getting promoted.
Sub-communication: “I can task you because I’m higher power, or because my work is more important than yours (or both).”
Disempowering red: as the boss, you are officially above your reports. And you are supposed to be above them.
A report acting as if he can freely task you is highly disempowering for your status, image, and authority.
It can happen of course that a report has to task you. But to avoid disempowering the boss, a smart report should be power protecting.
If they don’t power protect you, you should take steps because, if we were only to look at the potential damage for your networking goals, when you want to build relationships with others in the workplace who’ve witnessed you allowing others to disempower you and lower your status beyond what they’re comfortable with, they probably won’t take much interest in connecting with you.
Sub-communication: “I’m not expending any effort to show respect for your higher power and official authority as the boss. Maybe that’s because I, or the team in general, don’t even recognize you as the boss.”
Power Accounting: It’s Crucial to Assess People
Power accountancy helps you assess people and relationships.
You want to be especially watchful at the beginning.
- Empowering you
- Neutral and treating you as an equal
- Disempowering you
That tells you everything about how you want to deal with them, and what position they deserve in your life.
- Empowering you: strategic friends who help with your social proof
- Neutral, respecting you, and treating you as equal: friends who are potentially the same value as you are, good for partnerships
- Disempowering you: not friends (take corrective actions, or end the relationship)
Power Protecting: A Skill to Develop
Power protecting means taking steps to minimize the disempowerment you cause to others.
Take this example:
Power-protecting report: “Boss, do you think you can send me that document today (power protects by leaving the final decision up to him)? That way I can finish this task for the client” (provides a rationale why he needs that document, and it’s a rationale that the boss is also likely to want and approve of).“
This is power-protecting.
And it’s part of well-developed people and political skills.
A report who power-protects his boss is more likely to be liked and rewarded by the boss—and promoted.
Power protecting works because the general rule is that nobody likes to be disempowered.
And, when you don’t power protect, you disempower others. So, failing to power-protect erodes social capital, harms your relationships, and makes it harder for you to make friends and allies.
On the other hand, properly power-protecting increases social capital, improves your relationships, and makes you more friends and allies.
Power-protecting is especially important with the types of personalities who are most likely to become high-value, high-power individuals—such as, the ones who are most instrumental to your own success.
Power protecting is a skill you want to develop to:
- Ingratiate your superiors: leaders and bosses are very quick to dislike the subordinates who disempower them. And, they want to promote those who empower them.
- Make more friends and allies: people prefer to have as friends and allies those who power-protect them, rather than those who take power away from them.
- Make fewer enemies: same as above. Most people don’t like those who disempower them. And especially not those who are high-value and high-power.
- Be smoother and more effective: often in life people aren’t contradicting, escalating, or denying you a favor based on what you do or say, but based on their feeling aggressed and disempowered. (They’ll never admit to that, but as a proper social strategist, you know better now.)
Power Dynamics Principles
Some of the most important principles of social power dynamics:
1. Power Moves Add Up Over Time (the Sum-Up Effect)
The effects of value-adding or value-taking power moves tend to add up over time.
So a string of yellow-level one-ups becomes the equivalent of an orange or red if you never take action.
Act early to counteract or stop the power-taking behavior from reaching truly damaging levels because there is a risk of “death by a thousand cuts”.
The first few power moves (cuts) do little harm.
But if you do nothing to prevent more cuts, you’ll eventually end up lifeless—or, in our case, powerless and at the bottom of the hierarchy.
As an example of a progression of death by a thousand cuts, imagine this social exchange:
- He takes the lead + dominant introduction: comes to you first, energetically shakes your hand, speaks loudly, looks at you straight in the eyes, slightly aggressive. You remain neutral instead (losing out because of the net effect).
- He leads the conversation and asks “where are you from”: you comply and give him what he wants, without asking anything back. You relinquish any leadership on the interaction.
- He makes a slightly power-taking joke about your nationality: for example, “Oh, we have Lucio Corleone here, watch out for him guys,” and you laugh at it.
- You propose place X to go to, he says that “only losers go there” and you should all go to Y place: people start seeing him as the leader, so they laugh at his joke and prefer going along with his leadership.
And you can then have even more cuts in the future:
- [Cut 5] You arrive at the restaurant and he tells you where to sit because he wants someone else close to him: now he takes one notch higher with a more disempowering power move (an orange).
After all the yellows, the orange is the final nail in your coffin. You’re officially a nobody in the group. Since you never took action, it’s difficult for you to buck the trend now because the reality has “cemented”. And the reality is that he’s above you and that you’re a low-status member of the group.
Forget women in that group liking you, or guys wanting to befriend you.
2. Power Moves Gather Momentum Over Time (the “Momentum Effect”)
Trends of power dynamics gather speed and power.
And, with momentum, it becomes harder to change the dynamics later on.
Act early, stop their momentum, or build your own momentum.
3. Power Patterns Cristallyze And Become Reality (Cementing)
A pattern of power dynamics tends to form a new “power reality”.
For example, a string of power-taking power moves that you don’t correct crystallizes the reality of you being lower power and lower status.
The aggressor/power mover instead ends up being above you in the power hierarchy.
This is very important for your success and your life as well.
And it’s the reason why Power University can be so life-changing: it helps you prevent getting stuck at the bottom.
The consequences of a crystallized power structure are far-reaching.
In a workplace environment, if you get slotted beneath your colleague(s), you can hardly be promoted to a managerial role.
Lower-status individuals can hardly be promoted, no matter the skills they possess because they’re labeled as “non-leadership material”.
You become the guy/gal who is “a good guy, but doesn’t have ‘what it takes’ for added responsibility”.
However, keep in mind that a cemented power structure is not unchangeable.
It just takes more willpower, more skills, and some time. But you can de-crystallize a bad power restructure, and re-crystallize a new one.
Act early, act resolutely, and correct power-taking patterns so you don’t end up lower down.
Always be ready to re-negotiate a more favorable power level.
4. Your Level of Power Is Your Level, Minus Theirs (the “Net Effect”)
If your level is 9.5, you might still end up second in command when a 10 is in the room.
Remember that social exchanges work over two channels: power and warmth.
The power net effect is most pronounced when:
- Warmth is generally low or very low (think: adversarial exchanges, colder and/or aggressive individuals)
- Status and hierarchies are being negotiated (as opposed to when they’re already cemented)
- Power and status heavily influence the outcome (think: a negotiation)
In general, do not overplay the importance of the net effect in collaborative relationships (else, you’re in the “dickhead-dom bucket”).
But also do appreciate its importance in non-collaborative relationships and with more aggressive individuals (else, you’re in the naive bucket).
5. Power Imbalances Change Relationships and Can Turn Win-Win Into Lose-Win
From a power dynamics perspective, there are two types of relationships:
- Relationships between equals: power tends to be balanced, people expect balance, and imbalances are either harmful or resisted.
- Relationships between non-equals: power imbalances are the norm and most people are cool with it.
An imbalance of power in relationships between non-equals is often the norm.
When relationships are either officially (e.g. boss-employee) or non-officially (e.g. high-power man, feminine woman) between non-equals, you can live with power imbalances.
However, even in many non-equals relationships, the extent of that power difference is up for negotiation.
And you’re better off being in the upper range of power, than in the lower range.
However, this distinction is important because many relationships start as equals, but evolve into non-equals over time.
And they change over time depending on the power dynamics.
As a general rule:
You can lose your status as an equal if you let too many power-taking actions go unchecked.
Over time, people also lose respect for you if you let them disempower you. They might start thinking of you as unworthy of them.
And, you can hardly have a win-win of equals when one party constantly acts higher power than you.
Back to the basics: don’t let people disempower you, stand up for your rights, and take action to re-empower yourself.
Social Strategy 101: Calibrating Power
Calibration is the name of the game for the advanced social strategist.
This is a power chart of two people with different baselines of power who are meeting each other for the first time.
In simpler terms, imagine you meet a more dominant individual (colored in the black boxes below) while you keep behaving as you usually do (lower dominance compared to him):
If you don’t understand the chart, please read how a candlestick chart works.
In the chart, from the start, the other guy behaves and talks more dominantly.
And if you don’t adapt, you keep losing power over the next few back and forths until the net result cements with you being “below” him.
As a general rule:
The individual who is or behaves more dominant ends up being “above” in the 1:1 relationship and higher status in the group’s hierarchy.
So the first rule of calibration is to increase your power when dealing with more dominant individuals.
If they are also low-warmth, then it’s often a good idea to also decrease your own warmth. (Heads up: it’s possible to be warm without losing power, but that’s more advanced.)
For more examples, see Power University.
Keep on reading to learn how you can improve your results when you meet more dominant individuals.
Go Higher Power With Dominant Individuals, Lower With Submissive Ones
The good social strategist calibrates both “up” and “down”.
Attention: you don’t necessarily, always have to calibrate.
The great news is that once you reach a good level of baseline power and warmth, you can stick with it and do generally great.
However, if you want to reach the next level, then calibration and flexibility are the way to go.
We’ve already seen the costs of not adapting to more dominant, potentially lower-warmth individuals.
But there are also costs to over-dominance.
So you may also want to adapt to lower-power individuals.
Coming across as too higher power can make people uncomfortable, fear you, compete with you, or generally feel a “disconnect” with you.
That can stand in the way of developing rapport, social capital, and generally making friends and allies—which is a basic strategy of life success.
Increasing your warmth and friendliness is especially good if you’re a naturally very dominant or imposing guy, and you don’t want to come across as a power challenge with people who have a higher rank than you (example: a boss at work).
See Power University for more examples of “strategic submissiveness”.
Power is a negotiation and you’re sitting at that negotiation table.
You also decide what level of power and status you have.
So the power-accountancy of an exchange is more like a set of steps of action-reaction.
As in this chart:
Let’s take the same example we saw earlier and review how a higher power individual handles it:
1. He takes the lead + an overly dominant introduction
As your first re-empowering self-defense, you shake his hand equally powerfully or put a hand on his forearm if you don’t have as much strength. If he exaggerates, comment on it (e.g. “Man, are you trying to crush my hand or something.”).
You look at him straight in the eyes and say “pleasure meeting you man” with a strong and resonant voice.
Effect: Your answer brings the power back to almost neutral territory.
2. He takes the lead of the conversation and asks “where are you from” with a dominant attitude.
As your second re-empowering self-defense, you avoid 100% compliance. For example, say that you’re a world citizen or that it’s “difficult to say”, or that you “live in X, but travel around”.
If you answer, you ask him a question back so that it’s not just you answering, but also asking.
Effect: Since you either avoid submitting or turn it into a give & take, you now go into power-positive territory.
3. He ignores your question and makes a power-taking joke about your nationality: for example, “Oh, man, everyone who’s been to Italy had their stuff stolen. What’s wrong with you guys.”
Finally, your third re-empowering self-defense, you one-up back.
For example: “Nobody’s stolen anything from me, maybe your friends look like gullible marks.”
Effect: you match power-taking with power-taking, showing power-awareness and strong resolve. Since he tried to one-up you but you one-up him back and are winning the frame battle, you go into positive territory.
For more, see Power University.
Now, with all of that said, here’s a major focus point:
The eagle move is to re-empower others from a position of power.
Notice the chart: your last move is re-empowering him.
That’s the eagle’s approach.
Once you’ve won, you use your position of power to make friends and allies and bring people back up.
So, you’d say something like, “All cool man, glad we could clarify, you seem like a cool guy.”
Re-Empowering Strategies & Techniques
Definition: “Re-empowering techniques are all the techniques and behaviors we use to defend against disempowering power moves and retain or regain our power, status, respect, and self-respect.”
Re-empowering techniques are, by their very nature, about (social) self-defense.
A good chunk of The Power Moves is dedicated to self-defense.
Power dynamics is the science of people. It’s the application of advanced social skills to all aspects of winning with people to achieve goals—and doing so efficiently.
And power is about getting what you want.
A foundational understanding of power dynamics boosts how to negotiate, engage, and succeed with people—whether they’re being their best selves or their darker, selfish, more manipulative selves.
This is what’s missing in most self-help resources and this is what the top networkers focus on.
The most successful connectors are often the ones who tend to have a baseline of high power and high warmth (which is achieved in part by refusing to let people disempower you too much), and calibrate themselves to the situation (which is only possible with a fundamental understanding of power dynamics principles).
This article is largely a preview from Power University. Join the program for the full version and more strategies.