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The 3 stages of learning power dynamics

This one dawned on me this morning and I'm still reflecting on it.

Recently there was a question about the "congratulations power move", which is the first power move example in PU.

The question made me think the asker was on his first steps.

And then I noticed a trend both in learning, and in my own advice.

This is the trend in learning:

  1. Beginners focus on words / single actions. The focus is on single power moves and what it means to them in the immediate. The solutions are answers to that specific power move. Because they're still beginners, the single power move is sometimes not even that big (ie.: a "stock answer" or a yellow-level power move)
    Example: "what does congratulations mean, and how should I answer it". There is little focus on the nonverbals, the full interaction, the power of the speaker (compared to yours), and one's own goals
  2. Intermediates look more at situations, at how he's generally losing or gaining in full interactions. They also have a much better feel for the intensity of the power move, and know better not to waste too much time on the small stuff.
  3. Advanced look more at goals, and at what power moves say about people and character. And the solutions tend to more goal-oriented, and holistic.
    Example: the advanced practitioner is happy to lose power now if it helps him achieve the end goal. And that's only possible because he focuses on the end game from the start -a mindset switch-.
    Or he's happy to see an early power move as it tells him a lot about people's character. He cares more about general character, which has long-term repercussions, than the immediate.
    The solutions are less about answering to that power move, and more about deeper solutions such as "keep at arm's length", or "make the most out of it until I find a new job"

And the trend in my own answers tends to be:

  1. Explain the dynamics of the specific sentence/power move, BUT
  2. Say not to over-focus too much on it AND
  3. Focus instead on the character/full interaction/goal, and moving forward with the curriculum

Such as, my answers tell people to switch focus from the single power move, to the full interaction.

And by saying "go ahead with the curriculum", I want them to spend less time on a single interaction (depth) and go ahead to learn from many more examples (breadth).

There is nothing wrong with focusing on a single power move.
It's an important of learning actually, also advanced folks do it, and we do it a lot here.

However, I think it can be a trap unless one also realizes the importance, and soon unlocks, also stage 2 and 3.

Such as: it's bad if one only does level 1.

And, I think, level 1 without awareness of 2 and 3 also slow down one's learning and the unlocking of 2 and 3 because they may waste too much time on single power moves (depth).
Instead, breadth can more quickly allow people to get the "general feel" than depth can.

So that's why I found myself often exhorting people to "not make too much out of single words, and move on with the learning".

If anyone has any thoughts on this, happy to read.

I may even add it to PU intro lesson on how to maximize learning.

Ali Scarlett, Alexandr and 6 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettAlexandrJohn FreemanJackKavalierMats GBelMaverick
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Yes, I like the idea of being remembered to focus on the end goal.

Much like your article saying that being too hellbent on power can make you miss some dating opportunities.

it’s about living more efficiently after all, and I feel this is the eagle way.

A good addition to the course in my opinion

Lucio Buffalmano and Kavalier have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoKavalier

This is cool, Lucio, thank you for sharing.

It reminds me of my own journey starting as a beginner (and, I don't considered myself fully "advanced" yet):


  • The beginner believes any and all power moves should be addressed
  • The first-level intermediate believes that anything that disempowers you should be addressed (regardless of exceptions) and, perhaps, that the goal is to always look/be powerful
  • The next-level intermediate (level 2) is one step away from being advanced. He believes in the importance of considering the person and the context to strategize how to respond in a manner that's calibrated to both the situation and the type of person being dealt with. Plus, he takes into account his first goal of maximizing allies and minimizing enemies.
  • The advanced takes into account all factors thought of by the previous levels and potentially more, with the goal being first and foremost to maximize life efficiency and effectiveness, and the resulting goals being a byproduct of that original one. (As a result, the advanced takes more freedom in choosing when to respond and ignore, and how to respond if they decide that they want to.)

However, keep in mind, this is only my journey and everyone's is different.

Happy to read any thoughts.


Added the "however" note.

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Lucio BuffalmanoAlexandrJohn FreemanJackKavalierBel

Hello Lucio,

I think this is golden and has its place in PU. It corroborates my own experience as a learner of this craft.

For instance, the "Perfect!" power move said by a subordinate/equal which sounds like a subordinate is judging your work. It used to irritate me but now I don't care anymore. I let people "Perfect!" me all they want. I observed my supervisor and he does not care when people do that to him. So I learned that it's more about the relationship as a whole. If people respect you, are friendly and seek your advice, it means more than the "Perfect" (the words) they can say.

I totally agree, if you get what you want, then you are powerful and you won. The way to get it matters as in to treat other people with respect. On the other side of the relationship (the way people treat you): if you are able not to take things personnally and the possible disempowerment has no real consequence outside of your ego, then you can let it slip more (being more easy going). So you don't get in conflict with people you want to collaborate with to get what you both want (win-win) in the long run or at least what you want.

So I think there is also an underlining theme in what you're saying: strategy. It's about going from being a tactician to a strategist as well I believe. But to do that, as you write one has to understand first the bricks to see the house then the neighbourhood. And then you can have way more leverage socially as you see the big picture. You will focus on the actions to get towards the end goal instead of having conflicts that have no real consequences/benefits. So I think it's useful to write your ideas above in PU.

I think it's normal to go from being irritated because one realizes he's being power moved to not caring because one is strategizing and will answer based on the desired outcome. From emotional to rational. But first as you said, one has to feel the power move, so emotions are necessary and useful.

You explaining your reasoning about how you answer is also very helpful to think more like you do.

Lucio Buffalmano, Jack and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJackKavalierMats G

Thank you so much Jack, Ali, and John!

Super useful to read your comments -awesome infographic, Ali! And super useful to know that it reflected John's experience-.

As for most things that are more systmeic and "run deeper", I'm taking some more time to reflect on this.

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Ali ScarlettJohn FreemanJackKavalier
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Hi guys,

adding my opinion on this: I think it's absolutely true that learning to interpret the bigger picture is a fundamental skill, that has a positive effect on handling specific power-moves and specific words and situations.

At the same time, I think the reverse is also true: ie being able to understand what's happening with specific power moves or phrases or behaviors is also something that produces a positive effect on interpreting and understanding the bigger picture.

In other words, as much as I second the idea that focusing on specific words or single actions is limiting, I also think that focusing on getting the "general feel" alone is not going to be effective.

Some other thoughts on this:

  • the order of learning and the specific effectiveness for different people may be different. I am a detail-oriented person, and I tend to use induction rather than deduction as a mode of reasoning: meaning, I tend to concentrate single-mindedly on understanding several specifics, and only then I get to a more "general level". Doing the reverse never worked well for me. But I'm sure other people may find this useless, and prefer to get a more "general-level" feeling first
  • if someone focuses on specifics, it's very likely that those specifics are recurrent and important to one's situation, and it's also very likely that one may have handled them badly so far. Learning to understand what is behind those specifics may be the "next level" in development for someone, and may free mental space useful to learn other things
  • I consider general-level principles more useful as a glimpse of the end-game. But I still think the work has to be always done at the specifics level. To use a metaphor: it's certainly very useful to be able to see the picture of how the puzzle is supposed to come out, but you still have to put the pieces together one by one
  • for me, being told "not to dwelve too much on specifics" - which, I want to clarify, never happened here on TPM - was a constant in life. It was often something that was told to me to "block my progress". It's easy to tell someone "do therapy", or "raise your self-esteem". But it's also useless, and probably just a fake teacher-frame. What's very useful is to tell someone - who wants to learn and is asking for advice - specifics like "you might be in an abusive situation, and should consider this". Or, "you are making a mistake at not thanking people back when they thank you". And so on. And from implementing these specifics, self-esteem will raise (and general-level understanding will accrue in time)
  • there is a tendency in masters, I think, to "get some higher-level principles" later in their path. An expert is (usually) going to start from specifics, and have little success. Then he is going to learn more and more specifics, and get more success. Then he is going to get the "full picture", and get massive success. What the expert will do in these situations is think: "Well, it's obvious to me that what got me to success is understanding the bigger picture. If I am able to point it out to people as a first thing, I'll shorten their learning considerably". I think this is usually an over-simplification, and may also be a mistake on many fronts. First, success to the master came by applying specifics: getting the full picture was a by-product of that. So in reasoning like that the master may be inverting cause and effect. Second, other people may be doing so many things wrong, that getting the full picture of the completed puzzle may be totally useless in their situation. Much more useful to start addressing mistakes in specific situations one by one
  • sometimes (again, not on TPM), not wanting to deal with specifics and preferring to talk about the bigger picture is a form of "masking ignorance". It is very very difficult to understand things at the level which we deal with here. In every other group this would be considered total overkill. But this is precisely what makes a so big difference compared to other courses or communities.

With this I'm not saying that a wider focus is wrong. I'm seconding Lucio's point that everything's good if one progresses with the two in parallel.

A bit like the dichotomy between studying and practising. Focusing on one of them is not going to make any difference. But combining the two... BOOM.

Lucio Buffalmano, Alexandr and 4 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAlexandrJohn FreemanJackKavalierMats G

Thank you for sharing, Bel!

Awesome post, and I'll incorporate at least some of that into that likely future lesson/article.

Just to be clearer:

Unlocking the higher level doesn't mean you forget the ones before.
And mentioning those higher levels first also doesn't mean you start from the higher levels going backward either.

You still start from the lower levels.

The higher levels are built on the lower levels, and the more advanced practitioner can and sometimes will to stop and think things over -going back to the "over-analyze phase".

However, it's still very helpful to be aware of how the journey looks like, for the reasons above -getting the glimpse, as you call it-.

I originally mentioned that not knowing the full path can lead to too much time wasted on single power moves, over-focusing on words, and slower progress (Ie.: I think that, in many cases, students are better off to go ahead with PU, rather than get hung up -and potentially frustrated- on more nuanced dynamics they don't yet understand, and then come back to them later once they developed a better understanding for power dynamics).

But as I reflected on it more, there are other benefits.
Being ignorant of the road ahead and what the final stage looks like also leads to many throwing in the towel or never even starting because the learning feels overly difficult, and too "gamey".

This is the pepole who say "I'm not interested in power" or "I see too many power moves, I think ignorance was bliss".

These are some of the major issues I've noticed for the learners:

  1. they think that learning power dynamics makes life too complex
  2. they think life is "worse" for seeing so many power moves (see this thread).

Instead, it helps a lot to stick thorugh when one knows that at the more advanced level, life is pretty much "normal", but just better.

In many ways, it's as chill when one was unaware, just without being a lamb anymore, and a lot more effective.

Ali Scarlett, Alexandr and 3 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettAlexandrJohn FreemanKavalierBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

If that is helpful: I think these are very important clarifications and could go along with the 3 steps you enumerated as they are helpful to the learner.

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Lucio BuffalmanoAlexandrKavalier

I was reflecting about this more.

I believe you are right, Lucio, that not overfocusing on small issues and single power moves when starting out may be the right thing to do - possibly with the exception of when the stakes are very high.

That is because, when one is starting out, it is likely that power moves come from people who have already overpowered the recipient, possibly for a long time. And, redressing the power moves when in a "red level situation" due to "death by a thousand cuts" is not easy, not normal, not how the game should be played.

The game is meant to be played by checking power moves immediately upon meeting a new person, not - at least in the beginning - by climbing back with teeth and nails the hole in which one may find himself vis-a-vis specific people, after being unaware for years of what they were doing.

So I agree that from this perspective also, over-focusing on specific power moves from people who have already overpowered one, when starting out, may be a losing proposition.

It's a bit like the common advice in dating, when someone asks "How do I get that woman whom I invited out 30 times and she always said no".

The game is, in this case also, meant to be played with full awareness upon immediately meeting a new woman.

So the best advice is "leave her be, focus on learning the bigger picture of dating".

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Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettJohn FreemanKavalier

Thank you for this added note, Bel!

Very useful, and a great point.

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Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?