Power Protecting: How to Keep Win-Win With High-Value People

man helps another man regain power

Power protecting is a foundational concept of power dynamics for social and life effectiveness.

In this article, we will learn what power protecting is, and how you can use it to become more effective in life.

man helps another man up
At its core, power protecting is about keeping people empowered. Power protecting sub-communicates you’re a good person to be close to (either a friend, ally, or partner)

INTRO

We define power protecting as:

Approaches, strategies, and techniques that protect and maintain other people’s power, status, dignity, reputation, and face (as in “saving face”)

Albeit we first codified “power protecting” here at TPM, we certainly didn’t invent it.
Same as for social climbing, social manipulation, Machiavellianism, and many other concepts and skills we teach here, power-protecting is an inborn human behavior that spans all cultures and individuals.

Power protecting is the natural “other side” of self-defense to defend your own power.
Such as: as much as you don’t want others to disempower you, you also want to avoid the gratuitous aggression and disempowerment of others.

Power protecting concept as a side of the same coin
Self-defense and power protecting are two sides of the same concept

So, yes, in a way, it’s how you show others respect and consideration.
However, it’s not only about consideration.
It’s also more socially effective for you.

Why Power Protecting

In brief:

Power protecting makes you more effective with others and through others by preventing common power-related rifts, and improving your relationships.

The relationships improve because power protecting better maintains social capital -including rapport, mutual liking, cooperative spirit, as well as the intrinsic motivation that is crucial for goal-based teams and leaders-.

In more schematic terms, the benefits are:

  • Make more friends and allies: power protection elicits more cooperation because people prefer to have as friends and allies those who show concern for them, rather than those who take (power) 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
  • Ingratiate your superiors: leaders and bosses deeply dislike the subordinates who disempower them. And they want to promote those who empower them
  • Maintain intrinsic motivation, especially from the top performers, who tend to prefer bosses who respect and value them, and who have more power to leave
  • Keep givers in your life: see for example the Power University lesson on how to get and keep mentors
  • Be smoother and more effective: power protecting is part and parcel of being high-power/high-warmth, as well as being a social charmer

Let’s see how to power-protect:

How to Power Protect

There are a million ways to power protect and we couldn’t possibly list them all.

emoji holding a "sorry" sign
A heartfelt apology after you disempowered, wronged, offended, or behaved in any “not-so-cool-way” towards someone is one of the most foundational forms of re-empowering others

Luckily, the high-level guidance is both simple and effective:

Treat others as you want to be treated.

Or:

  1. Don’t be a dickhead
  2. Offer minimum baseline of respect and consideration
  3. Treat others as empowered individuals -especially if they actually are empowered-

The only drawback with this high-level guidance is that it requires knowing what’s the optimum balance between dickhead behavior and overly deferential behavior -ie, it requires some power awareness-.

So let’s go more in detail:

1. Avoid Over-Dominance

For example:

2. Avoid Gratuitous Power Moves

… and especially the nasty ones.

Of course, sometimes a power move is well called for.
We’re not talking about those cases here.
We’re talking about gratuitous, uncalled-for power moves.

Gratuitous power moves include power moves, games, and (social) manipulation on:

  • Friends and allies
  • First time meeting someone
  • People who haven’t attacked you first
  • Acquaintances you’re not competing against
  • Non-competitive situations and environments

Generally speaking: any power move you pull on a friend or ally who hasn’t attacked you first is a big red flag of a lose-win character.
And any power move on anyone who hasn’t attacked you before is uncalled for unless it’s an exceptional “the end justifies the means” situation.

Just two examples:

2.2. Avoid unneeded manipulation

For example:

  • Social exchange manipulations such as saying “I did just for you” just to increase other people’s debt of gratitude
  • Power Hoarding
    • Credit withholding: not giving proper credit
    • Apologies withholding: not apologizing when an apology is called for

3. Avoid “Teacher’s Frames” (That Frame Others As Pupils)

In growth mindset power dynamics we learned that:

Teachers grow in high authority, and those who learn from the teachers tend to lose authority.

So to avoid disempowering others, avoid talking down on others from a disempowering “learn from me” frame.

Let’s see some examples:

Instead of “This Is The Truth”, Say “It Was Helpful To Me”

See a real-life example:

Me: (shares a video lambasting the nutritionist he was following) He changed the way I look at nutrition, so sharing it with you in case it may be equally helpful

Note:

  • He changed” it’s not me teaching, but an expert third-party that none of us knows personally
  • “It was helpful to me” is a caring, “want to give you value” frame
  • “Sharing with you in case it may he’s the final judge of whether it’s useful for him, and I’m cool with his decision
  • “Feel free to ignore if you don’t think it’s helpful”: this grants him the freedom to not even watch the video

The power taking approach here would be an attitude such as “the guy you’re following is crap, listen to me that I know better”.

That works IF someone has already accepted you as a higher power and high-trust source.
But it’s a bad approach for people who are your equals, for friends and other high-power personalities.

Learn more in:

4. Task & Request With A Minimum Baseline Respect

Tasks and requests are all about power.

The person who assigns tasks is higher power, and the person who executes submits (to the higher power person’s will).
As a general rule: the more disempowering your tasking is, the bigger that power differential grows, and the bigger and more evident that submission becomes.

So high-dominance requests create resentment unless you take steps to power-protect the receiver. And especially so with high status and higher power people.

Just imagine someone tells you:

Colleague: (comes by your desk) hey! (<– disempowering as he doesn’t even dignify with you an actual name)
I need the PBS report (<– no “social balm” saying “hi” or “how are you”. He focuses on what he needs only),
send it to me now please (<– no asking if you can, if you have other priorities, no telling you he will “owe you one”, and no justification for high-priority execution because, say, he’s “under a tight deadnline”)

How would you feel?
Most people with any social awareness -or with a spine, for that matter-, would think “who the f*ck does he think he is to come at me like that”?.

So to avoid resentment and get more compliance you want to power-protect the receiver.
Some common formats from least to most power-protecting include:

  • Can you please…
  • Could you… … Please?
  • Do you mind…
  • Do you think you can…
  • Would it be possible…
  • Would it bother you to…

Of course, if you’re the boss, the last 2 may be too much power protection, so you need to calibrate.
Speaking of overdoing it…

Avoid Over-Protection For Tasks: It Sounds Off

As for everything: balance.

Too much power protection makes you sound tentative.
And it can feel game-y.

So generally avoid going overboard with formats such as:

5. Reject Others Tactfully

hand holds a sign politely saying "no"

Everything about tasking and asking is about power…

Including rejecting and saying no.

That’s because many people feel diminished, slighted, or offended when you reject them too curtly or abruptly.
And rejections are even emotionally painful when the reach out was a bid for friendship, love, or affection -or a general act of vulnerability-.
Hence, to maintain good relationships and keep friends and allies, you often want to add some power protection to your rejections.

We have several articles on strategic rejections here:

P.S.:
“Tactfully” is not the same as “nicely”.
You can be strong and firm, but still respectful.

6. Strategically Use Diminitutives

Yes: too many diminutives can cost you in power.

But as for everything: balance.
We’re not talking about overdoing anything here, and a few strategically placed diminutives can make your request less disempowering, and maintain more rapport and social capital.

For example:

  • Negotiation: We’re almost there, just a small detail, but if we can add the breakfast with this rate, we got a deal
  • Everyday Life: Hey, hi, Can you please move a bit so that we can both park without touching each other
  • Managing Other People’s Work: This is better, there is one little thing left

Jordan Peterson, maybe because of his Canadian roots one may joke, is a big user of diminutives to power protect others:

Jordan Peterson: Can you (<— tasks with a question, rather than a direct request)
move the mic a bit (<— “a bit”, the frame is “you’re almost doing it right, just need a small change for perfection”)
so that people can hear you a little better ( <— “a little better”, the frame is “little is needed because you were doing OK and we’re almost there”)

Add Time Constraints

For example:

  • Super quick
  • Just 5 minutes

When you add time constraints, you decrease people’s (perceived) investment and costs to accommodate you. And that, in turn, increases the compliance rate.

Listen to yours truly in the gym asking to use a lifter’s barbells during his in-between sets break:

Examples from the author are for Power University only

Especially, pay attention to how I say it.

7. Justify It: Provide A Reason For Your Requests Or Exceptions

There’s a famous example in psychology on the power of providing a reason:

Experimenter: Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the machine because I have to make some copies

Albeit the reason was uncompelling, it worked 93% of the time.
It worked almost as much as providing a legitimate reason such as “because I’m in a rush” -which had 94% compliance rate-.

Cialdini attributed the persuasive power to the trigger word “because”.
And the original researchers, the good researchers they are, called it “placebic information in interpersonal interactions” to make it sound unnededly complex.

In truth, that worked because “because” is the keyword bridge to power protecting.
Indeed the study also says, I quote, “the female experimenter had a higher rate of compliance than the male experimenter” (full study here).
And that’s because letting a woman go first is associated with “gallantry” (empowering), rather than “submissiveness” (disempowering).

So, albeit many researchers missed the true underlying dynamic, research supports the efficacy of power protecting via justification.

When you provide a reason:

  1. You expend effort, which is intrinsically power-protecting because higher effort is lower dominance
  2. You show consideration for others by providing a rationale for your task or request
  3. Bonus only, you provide an actual and logical reason

Providing a rationale works particularly well when you assign demanding tasks or when you ask for exceptions because people feel more respected, and less like suckers for accepting your win-lose request.

8. Assume Good Intentions

Some ways of assuming good intentions is to assume:

  • Mistake, rather than a deliberate power move
  • Misunderstanding, rather than one party fully to blame
  • You didn’t mean it that bad way” type of justification

Assuming good intentions also prevents defensiveness and escalations and helps people to own up and apologize, which often keeps relationships smoother.

Here at TPM though we want to make sure that granting the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean you necessarily forget what happened.
Power moves and manipulation attempts are always red flags, no matter whether it was a mistake or whether you resolve the situation under the guise of a “misunderstanding”.
So always keep a mental note.

Reverse of the Law: Disempowering Assumption

Disempowering assumptions assume the worst from others.

Whether the negative assumptions are direct or sub-communicated, they say that you don’t distrust and, likely, that you don’t like them.

Take this example of a customer who mistakenly purchased Seduction University more than once:

Customer: I am extremely worried about these extra sums being taken from my account

Think about what that sub-communicates.
If he’s extremely worried, it sub-communicates that the business is untrustworthy. And the wording of “extra sums being taken” sub-communicates that it was the business’s fault, rather than his mistake.
(Also, generally avoid that bitch talk).

9. Recruit Them Instead of “Changing Their Minds”

Remember that influence is about power.

And, even if momentary, accepting influence means accepting someone else superiority -be it superior intelligence, expertise, problem-solving skills, or whatever-.

That means they are going to end up disempowered against you -and lose social status, if it was public-.

Generally speaking, the more experienced, higher-rank, or older they are compared to you, the more they will resist your influence.

When you walk in and tell someone how to improve, you’re also indirectly saying that whatever they were doing, thinking, feeling, or not doing, wasn’t optimal.

Who wants that?
That’s very disempowering, and at many levels.

So power protecting is often the highest-odds approach when you’re promoting any change.
And especially so if the people you’re dealing with are above you in the hierarchy.

See Power University for the examples.

10. Jump Through The Issue: High-Power Power protecting

This is where advanced strategizing shines through.

When you jump through the issue you are both high-power, goal-oriented AND power-protecting.

It works great because when you jump through the issue and into the solution you automatically power-protect because you shift the focus away from the disempowering issue (that’s “thread-minimizing” in frame control terms).
All the while, you’re being goal-oriented, high-power, and leader-like.

For example, imagine you’re a lawyer and catch a mistake by the notary that would significantly increase your client’s costs.
This is how you jump through the issue:

Her: (makes a mistake and forgets a loophole to save taxes)
You: Hi, how are you. Thank you for the quote and fast turnaround, I appreciate that. I think we can apply the XWZ ruling to it. Can we do that please, I want to help my client lower the taxes

You don’t even mention the mistake.
You treat it as a given, gone and forgotten in the past, and focus on how to move forward.

The power protection is also sub-communicated in the:

  • Attitude: goal-driven concerned about bottom-line results
  • Matter-of fact communication: it is what it is, neutrally, without making a fuss about anything
  • Customer-centric approach shifts the focus from mistake, to end goal: the “that’ll help my client lower the taxes“. You’re not doing this out of concern for “mistakes”, but for your customer
  • Brevity / voice: if in text, short and to the point. If on a call, with a flat tonality

And:

  • Power protection elements:
    • Warmth: “how are you”, “thank you for”, and “appreciate… ” maintain warmth and preframes the interaction it as you still being good with them.
    • Standard power protection: The “I think” and “that’ll help my customer” are the power-protection bits here

Higher power, faster, more direct, more professional… And even more power protecting.

Saving Face

Saving face was popularized by Andrew Carnegie as a social skill technique.

And saving face is an important subset of power-protecting.

To save face means to “help avoid embarrassment” and “avoid making people feel bad”.

See Power University for more, but to give you an idea:

Relieve Them From Blame & Guilt

Some ways of doing it:

  • Normalize it: say that whatever “bad thing” happened, it happens frequently, or happens to many people
  • Relate: for example, share when something similar happened to you
  • Jump through it: if someone shares a weakness or failure, quickly say “sorry to hear”, and then move on
  • Swap “you” for impersonal approaches and pronouns such as “people”, “when one does… ” or “it can happen that”
  • Blame-shift to external circumstances, third parties, or simply “life” and “questions of odds” (see Power University)

And finally, albeit you want to be careful with this:

Take The Blame Yourself

Some formats of taking the blame include:

  • “Maybe I didn’t get something, but…”
  • “Maybe it’s me, but…”
  • “I’m new so still learning the ropes… “

And, to act straight and as an eagle, don’t forget:

  • Take the blame when it is your fault (especially with good people and win-win relationships)

Sen an example from the forum while I was preparing this article:

text example of power protecting

Me: (replies in another thread, sub-communicating the quoted post was off-topic, but takes the blame for the off-topic) my bad for starting the off-topic there

See Power University for calibrating, case studies, and more techniques.

This is a preview from Power University. PU alumni please click here for the better lesson.

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