Some of the popular literature on power rests on cynicism.
It’s easy for cynicism to find fertile ground.
Since a lot of the self-help literature is based on politically correct, feel-good BS, cynicism can sound more “real”, and “more effective”.
However, cynicism is no more effective than naive self-help is.
What is effective, then?
Well, when we are talking about repeat-social interactions, which includes friends, intimate relationships, family members, as well as many business transactions, collaboration is most effective in increasing your power and influence (and your well-being, as well).
Collaboration evolved in humans because it was good for the individual.
Evolutionary psychologists disagree on a few things, but they all agree that collaboration yields social and material benefits not just for the group, but for the individual as well.
There is plenty of evidence on that, and even computer simulations proved it (for an overview, see Matt Ridley, 1996).
Let me say it again: collaboration is not empty self-help or for the naïve ones. Collaboration evolved because it proved a boon for the individual’s self-interest and selfish genes.
What does it mean to you?
It means that if you can structure most of your long-term relationships as collaborations and as win-win, you will gain (together with your partner).
Here is an infographic for long-term power:
Let’s review each one of them:
- #1. Seek Win-Win Deals
- #2. Seek Collaborative Relationships
- #3. Make Friends, Not Enemies
- #4. Be Warm And Powerful
- The Exceptions
#1. Seek Win-Win Deals
Win-win is the collaboration principle applied to business.
Business deals tend to be more transaction and utility-based than non-business relationships.
But the moment that you start making a reputation for a fair businessman who delivers value and keeps his word, people will see you also for your personal qualities, and not only for your product or services.
#1.2. Use Win-Win Frames
People must know that you seek win-win.
There are plenty of people with a short-term, cheater mindset, and if you don’t differentiate yourself from them, you will miss out on a lot of relationships and collaborations.
How do you advertise win-win?
- Internalize within yourself that you seek win-win: then your vibe, nonverbals and gestures will automatically align
- Mind your reputation: your reputation precedes you
- Say that you seek win-win: this is the most important point. Talk up that you only seek win-win: it works wonders.
People usually don’t say they are seeking win-win because they’re afraid they come across as insincere. And just like that, they lose a huge opportunity to frame the interaction as win-win.
But you must frame the interaction as win-win.
Remember: most people have the capacity for both evil and good, as much as for collaboration and cheating. When you use collaborative frames, you drastically increase the likelihood that you will select their collaborative mode.
You also want to re-frame the interaction as win-win whenever you see that interactions are getting too tense.
Reframing the interaction as win-win reminds people that you are still in a territory that adds value to both you, which is something that in the heat of the negotiation some people might forget.
So for example, if it seems like you are reaching an impasse while you negotiate your salary, you would say:
You: Look, I have the relevant skills for this position and I can do exactly what you’re looking for. Which is great, because I want to join your team.
We only need to find how we can make that work.
If you could only move towards this number a little bit more….
That re-sets the frame again towards win-win.
1.3. Steer Towards Win-Win
Often you will negotiate opposing interests in business.
If you are negotiating your salary, or the sale price of an object, you also have opposing interests. Steering towards win-win means that while you negotiate what’s good for you, you also keep an eye on how to make that pie larger for everyone.
If you want to become more in life, you can’t expect others to find a way for you. And sometimes, you can’t even expect others to find a way to do it for themselves.
You must take that responsibility upon yourself.
#2. Seek Collaborative Relationships
Collaborative relationships apply the collaboration principle to non-business relationships.
These include friends, friends with benefits, spouses, and family members.
Collaborative relationships mean first and foremost that you avoid the negative, value-subtracting behavior that many people engage in. That includes social climbing, making fun of others in a derisive manner, back-handed compliments, undermining others, etc.
People who go for collaborative relationships instead add value to others, and make others feel good.
That doesn’t mean of course that you must become a Mother Theresa. Your time is precious. But whenever you can give your time to someone, you do so in a way that adds value.
Sometimes, it might just be a smile or a single encouraging comment.
It’s the mindset behind it, not necessarily the amount of effort you put in it.
When you go for collaborative relationships, you have more friends, more allies, fewer enemies, and fewer frenemies.
And as we’ve said many times: friends and allies empower. Enemies disempower.
The closest the relationships, the more important it is that you can keep them within a mutually-accepted collaborative frame.
Of course, it’s not always possible. You can’t choose your parents or siblings, for example. But you can still do a lot to hold your side of the collaboration and to spur and encourage their collaboration by making your frames explicit (see example below).
Needless to say, the goal is not to have 100% of your relationships 100% perfect, at all times.
That’s just silly.
And “collaborative” doesn’t mean you always agree or never have an argument. That’s also just silly.
The goal is to simply move in that direction and to remain within that overarching framework of collaboration.
The goal is to develop a collaborative mindset which seeks collaboration and, as well, demands collaboration.
And, luckily, you can choose your closest friends and your spouse.
Don’t even think of making close friends who can’t work within a collaborative frame. And if you pick a spouse who can’t work within a collaborative frame, I will personally come pay you a visit :).
#2.2. Use Collaborative Frames
Again, same as above.
People need to know that you’re a straight-shooter.
And they’re not wrong: most people are not natural value-adders.
And when needed, you must re-frame your interactions as collaborative.
This is a concept that you will see again and again over this course, with several examples.
#2.3. Steer Towards Collaboration
With some people, it’s very easy to keep collaborative relationships.
With some others, you need to do some more relationship management. Some people are more prone to jealousy, competition, and schadenfreude.
Some others only liked you when you were down on your ass, so that they could feel superior.
Of course, again, you can’t keep everyone happy.
But with some good relationship management, you will keep more of them within a collaborative frame, and you will minimize the risks of jealousy.
#2.3. Turn Competitive Frames into Collaborative Frames
This is one of the biggest, best-kept secrets of being successful with people.
I use this one very often, and you will see it across all this course (because it works).
Girl says I’m pushing too much?
I say: maybe it might seem like that, but it’s only because I want you to be happy.
Girlfriend says “she’s also good at doing XYZ”?
I think “uh-oh, she’s getting into competition mode”, and I say: “of course you are baby, that’s why we’re together. We’re not in a race at who’s better, we’re a team”.
Friend makes a snide comment?
I sidestep, maybe shake my head with a slight smile, but don’t escalate it. Instead, I make a mental note he’s entering into “competition mode” and that I need to show more warmth (lesson on warmth in the next module).
It works within families, too.
My brother thinks about selling his house, moving in with my aging parents, and the family dangerously starts thinking about who’s going to gain and lose?
The first thing I say is this: “it’s a big project to think of. Let’s talk about it and find something we’re all happy with. We’re a family, and personally I only want something we’re all happy with”. Immediate change of mood, everyone nods, everyone’s closer (and I become more leader-like, too).
Remember this: a frame of collaboration sets the expectation of collaboration, which in turn also leads people to behave collaboratively.
#3. Make Friends, Not Enemies
This is especially important to you.
If you’re reading here, chances are that you’re high in power.
You want power, you are driven, you want more in your life, and you are ready to work for it.
Many people who are high on power make the mistake of entering relationships with a competitive mindset.
They enter new encounters with the idea of “showing power” and “showing who’s boss”.
That leads to two reactions from those who deal with you: submission, or competition.
Problem is, most winners are also high in power, and that means that if you are competitive and compete with other competitive people, you end up competing with exactly the same people you want on your side.
And that’s why in Social Power we discuss the importance “mixing warmth with power”.
Of course, we must be realistic.
It will not always be possible to make friends and allies.
But again, this is not about getting that 100% score. It’s about the mindset.
But by approaching people and life with the mindset that you seek friends first, you will win more often, and more easily in life -plus, you’ll be happier-.
#4. Be Warm And Powerful
Your focus is dual:
- Making the best and strongest collaborations you can
- Making yourself into the best and strongest collaborator you can be
The two go absolutely hand in hand.
The more power you have, the more people want to collaborate with you, and the more you can advance each others’ interest.
The above rules don’t just apply to people.
They apply to business, and organizations as well.
See here some examples:
1. Powerful Businesses Ally: Peter Thiel & Elon Musk
People love “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel.
And for good reasons, it’s a great book on entrepreneurship.
What Zero to One also is, though, is an ode to collaboration in business (and to monopoly).
- Tells readers to drop the “disrupt” myth BS, because it creates competition against the most powerful and established players (ie.: Thiel exhorts to avoid unneeded fights)
- Shares how allying with Elon Musk instead of fighting him made both of them winners (ie.: turning enemies into allies)
- Exhorts readers to build teams based on cooperation, win-win, and shared meaning (ie.: pick people and partners with whom it’s easier to establish win-win and cooperation)
And BTW, Thiel understood the power of “extreme collaboration”, too.
That’s why he exhorts his readers to build teams that he (shamefully) calls “mafia”.
Speaking of which:
2. Powerful Organizations Build Powerful Alliances: The Godfather
The same principle of cooperation can be applied to crime.
Think of the difference between “petty crime”, “crime”, and “organized crime”.
Which of the three is most effective in enriching and empowering its members?
It’s organized crime, which is based on building up a web of alliances.
Being a Godfather is less about war than it is about establishing and nurturing alliances.
Including, and possibly especially, with other powerful players: other organized crime families, politicians, and high-ranking cops.
Even the name itself, “Godfather”, is used to foster the strong bond and cooperation that reigns among same-blood families.
The organization is also structured to provide win-win.
The organization provides work and opportunities, you share your part with the bosses, and everyone’s happy.
You do great work, “make your bones”, and one day you can enjoy the full protection of that family.
Look at how Jimmy from “The Goodfellas”, based on a true story, deals with the “enemies”:
He turns them into friends…
3. Powerful Empires Build Powerful Alliances: Rome, England, The U.S.
The same concept applies to countries.
It doesn’t matter how powerful a country is: if it starts wars, it loses power.
And if it starts too many wars, it’s doomed.
Even focusing too much on military power can be counterproductive.
Think of the Assyrians.
Oh wait, you don’t know who they are?
And that’s because all they did was investing in war and making war.
And in spite of developing the most advanced and ruthless army of the ancient world, they left no mark on history. Constant and continuous rebellions by their many enemies eventually led to the Assyrians’ downfall -in spite of their superior power-.
Wars are often bad news even when you win.
Take Sparta for example, which theoretically won against Athens.
Sparta’s victory over Athens was a loss for everyone. It ended the Greek golden age, which never recovered.
And when the bigger guys invaded Greece, Sparta had nobody to ally with.
A more recent example is Germany, which up until World War II was the biggest military power in Europe.
And still it lost both world wars and much of its territory.
Too many wars and too many enemies.
Compare these examples with the powers that lasted.
Rome, England, and the US.
Those are the powers that, on average, set up win-wins and collaborations.
And made friends and allies.
The Romans could be ruthless when needed to, as all great powers sometimes need to be.
But the overall frame was one of cooperation. Rome always stressed unity within the empire, freedom for the population it annexed, and common good and trade.
Same for England and its Commonwealth.
And similar to what the US is doing.
A superficial look from the critics would have that the US is a warmongering country. But the opposite is true.
What truly allows the US to project its power is its web of alliances, together with its military bases in all its allied countries.
The US is the most powerful country in the world.
And still, guess which allies it picked? The US’ allies are also the most powerful countries in the world. The NATO countries in Europe include all the rich Western countries.
And in Asia, Korea and Japan, both close US allies, are the two most technologically advanced countries in the region.
The richest and most powerful country, allied with the richest and most powerful countries. Is it any wonder the URSS was going to lose?
That’s how you build a proper power network.
To strengthen its alliance, the US also made its partners stronger and richer, both with trade and, when needed, even with direct aid (most famously the Marshall plans, which ensured Western Europe remained capitalist and friendly).
The US also created bigger global markets, making the alliance not just more powerful, but richer, more prosperous, and happier.
And everyone gained.
That’s proper win-win deals on a world stage.
It’s the exact same with people.
People who start personal feuds and wars lose power.
People who seek a web of powerful allies gain power and leverage.
4. Reversal of The Laws. Lots of Enemies Means Less Power: Donald Trump
Donald Trump is a competitive and dominant man.
That’s how it should be.
Any driven man is at least somewhat competitive.
The challenge is in channeling that competitiveness in ways that support your goals with cooperation and alliances.
And Trump often struggles to contain his dominant streak, making too many enemies.
Sure, one could say: “but he is the president of the US”.
And that’s exactly why I picked him as an example.
Is Trump president because of his many enemies, or in spite of it? Look at what it’s costing him.
His constant warfare with the Democrats is making it impossible for him to pass the legislation he wants to pass.
He often battles his own party, turning friends into enemies. And that likely cost him his attempted repeal of Obamacare.
He picks wars with neutral judges and justice department, tarnishing his reputation, which contributed to making him the most disapproved president (and making his prosecutors even more dogged).
And not to talk about the press, where it looks like it’s “Trump against all journalists”:
The press certainly isn’t going to write anything flattering when Trump is always busy fighting it.
The result is that Trump is the most embattled president in history.
And that’s because his belligerence and uncompromising attitude of “with me or against me” makes too many enemies.
As we have said, these rules refer to relationships that see repeated interactions over time.
Even within repeated interactions, there can be exceptions.
For example, it’s possible to feign collaboration. And it’s possible to bully and manipulate someone into giving what you want. Even in the long run.
But it’s more difficult.
Plus, the people who are easiest to swindle rarely are the ones with a lot to give.
The more powerful and resourceful the people you deal with are, the more likely it is that they know how not to be taken advantage of.
On average, cheating works comparatively better in:
- One-off exchanges
- When there is no possibility of retribution
- When there is no harm from a damaged reputation
- When the cheated party has no way of finding out about your deceit
- When the cheater does not know how to cooperate: cheating is his way of life
- When the ill-gotten spoils of cheating can be so life-changing that they’re worth the risks
- And, very important for your mental and emotional well being, when you don’t feel bad about it
This website is built, in good part, to teach you about the exceptions as well, so that you protect and foster your value-adding alliances from life’s marauders.
However, whenever you are in doubt, always revert to these basic strategies of power.
Especially in all long-term human relationships, which include friendships, intimate relationships and, in good part, work relationships.
Because the downside of “being wrong” is, often, small.
But the upside is huge.
Take a friend who’s teetering between a friendly collaborator and a competitive frenemy, for example.
If when they act competitively, you escalate, you make an enemy.
Sure, you might later patch things up, but the scar will remain forever.
But if instead, you manage to turn him and win him over to a collaborative relationship, you make a friend. And a good friend, too, because he now feels he was stupid and unworthy in trying to trip you.
Ie.: you make a friend, from a position of power (judge role).
This can be shown schematically as well:
Seeking win-win cannot ensure you will always get win-win.
But seeking win-win first is the only strategy that gives you a chance at making a friend and ally, and thus increasing your own well-being as well.
If you go warm first when someone was curt towards you, the risk is small: he might rebuff your attempt, and you potentially lose a bit of status (we will see an example with the “icy dominance style“).
But if you play it well, you will still seem “superior”, and you make him look petty and vengeful.
The risk, overall, is small if things go wrong.
But if you manage to turn him, you win big (green quadrant).
And here is what one of the Social Power alumni says when he realized this simple law when discussing frenemies in the Social Power alumni forum:
I recovered, thankfully, but a valuable lesson was learned that day: fight only as a last resort. And seek out friendlier options if possible. If I applied your knowledge to that situation today, I am sure things would have turned out differently.
Yep, he’s totally right.
Of course, we can’t be 100% sure it would have turned out differently.
But life is about odds, and chances are high that it would have turned out better for him, indeed.
The sooner you start applying these laws, the more power to you.
This is a shortened version of a lesson from Social Power, which contains 2 more fundamental strategies.