What exactly constitutes power?
What are the basic laws of power?
This lesson covers the basic building blocks of power.
- #1. Learn How to Control Yourself
- #2. Get in Control Of Your Own Life
- #3. Learn How to Control Others
- #4. Learn How to Read and Control Frames
- #5. Learn How Soft Power Works (AKA: The Judge Role)
- #6. Learn to Do More, With Less (AKA: Law of Social Effort)
- #7. Leverage Resources (AKA: Do Make Some Money)
- #8. Learn to Leverage The Power of The Law
- #9. Acquire Physical Strength – Or At Least, Stay In Shape
#1. Learn How to Control Yourself
This is where it all starts.
Don’t confuse “control over oneself” with “having to overpower yourself”.
Control starts not with a struggle, but with acceptance, and being comfortable in your own skin.
It’s only after self-acceptance that you can better control yourself, and more effectively project power.
- Lack of control: not knowing what you like or dislike, what your values are, what drives you, what you care about, what makes you feel good
- Full control: knowing what you like and dislike, what you stand for, your strengths and weaknesses
- Lack of control: being at the whim of one’s own drives, chasing short-term gratification that ultimately makes you feel unaccomplished
- Full control: knowing your short-term drives, when they’re good and when they’re harmful, and actively deciding when to entertain them or resist them; building habits and routines that support your long term goal and sticking to them
- Lack of control: based on values and qualities outside your control; swinging from low self-esteem to inflated self-esteem without real skills and results to back it up
- Full control: self-esteem built around resilient qualities and values; always high on self-esteem
- Lack of control: needing someone’s approval; letting people get under your skin; allowing external circumstances to dictate your moods
- Full control: emotionally independent; owning, not being afraid, and being comfortable of your own weaknesses; controlling one’s states, including learning to enjoy the process as much as the results
An example of emotional control is this famous Godfather’s scene. We know that the Godfather has reached the level of maturity that it takes to lead when he moves beyond emotional vendetta (emotional out of control) to doing what’s most effective (emotionally in control).
“It’s not personal” = I’m not emotional about it. And “it’s strictly business” = this is what is rationally most effective
#2. Get in Control Of Your Own Life
Once you are on your way to mastering your inner self, you then move to master the external environment.
Control over your own life gives you freedom. But it also protects you from other people’s attempts to control you.
Control over your own life is one of the best antidotes against all types of abuse.
Some of the main areas to tackle:
- Life plan and direction
- Lack of control: following what parents or society deemed as “good”; goals based on what others want; following our genes’ programming without understanding it
- Full control: based on self-awareness developing plans and routines that move you in the direction you’ve chosen
- Lack of control: working in a job you hate, with fixed hours and fixed breaks
- Full control: doing what you like, with full freedom on how and when to execute
- Lack of control: depending on someone to pay the bills, without having other options
- Full control: works on his own / can easily find job from competitors / has a diversified income / has lots of savings
- Lack of control: puts all his eggs in one basket; is one illness away from bankruptcy; has no idea what to do if he’s in trouble
- Full control: diversifies; insures his most important assets; legally protects his assets against possible lawsuits or divorce; he knows what to do and who to call in case of troubles
#3. Learn How to Control Others
At the crudest level power is getting what you want and, when others stand in the way, to get them to do what you want.
Different authors and different texts provide different levers of power, including:
These categories overlap, interact and build upon each other too much to make any grouping useful.
But let’s have a quick overview of the three most important ones:
3.2. Coercive Power Is The Ability to Enforce
Coercive power is based on the ability to force others to do what you want.
It’s the equivalent of firing employees at work, physical aggression in a disagreement, or government’s incarceration for law-breakers.
It’s good to have coercive power, even when you don’t want to use it.
As a matter of fact, coercive power can even be used to avoid escalations -as Jordan Peteron said: if you can bite, you often don’t have to-.
3.3. Authority Is The Legitimacy of Power
Army generals are the stereotypical example of the power of official authority, conferred by their rank
Authority is the legitimization of power.
There are two types of authority:
- The one coming from title and official ranks (officially sanctioned authority)
- The authority that people grant you by virtue of your qualities (unofficial authority)
When people perceive you as having authority, they feel like they must obey you (official), or that they want to follow you and be influenced b you (unofficial).
When you combine both, people feel that it’s right and fair for you to have power over them.
The more authority people think you have, the more you influence people.
On the other hand, when you can decrease or question someone else’s authority, you delegitimize their power and hobble their ability to persuade and influence.
3.4. Control Over Resources: The Power of Keeping Others Dependent
You have probably heard this proverb:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime
From a perspective of power dynamics, it can be generalized this way: the more people need you, the more power you have.
And, conversely: the less you need people, the less power you give away.
The resources can be of different nature, including:
- Financial resources (salary, accommodation, etc.)
- Social support (cool parties, friends, professional network, etc.)
- Emotional (approval, flattery, etc.,)
And of course, as it’s often the case, it’s a mixture of them all.
This can be a good time for a first self-assessment:
– Are you living from paycheck to paycheck? If so, you are financially dependent on your employer
– Do you need people to go out or join an event? If so, you are socially dependent on your friends
– Are you craving someone’s approval? If so, you are emotionally dependent
The goal is not to be totally independent, which would make for a hermit life but, whenever appropriate, to reduce your dependence.
3.5. Leverage Intrinsic Motivation
Finally, don’t forget leadership and appeals to higher ideals.
Leadership is about leveraging intrinsic motivation. Also read:
#4. Learn How to Read and Control Frames
A frame is a set of beliefs, morals, and perspectives with which people interpret the world.
When two people with different ways of looking at the world meet, the person who can impose his frame on others is the most powerful.
Frames become especially obvious when it comes to disagreements.
Here is an example:
Saint Valentine is approaching, he believes gifts are a waste of time and money. She believes that it’s romantic and exchanging gifts is proof of caring.
What the couple does depends on whose frame prevails.
Frames are personal as much as social.
When a frame becomes ingrained at a social level, it’s very difficult for individuals to buck the trend.
In our Valentine’s example above, society’s frame is on her side.
That makes it difficult for him to “win” the frame without her feeling like he is imposing his will. If he keeps insisting, that could easily become a negative display of dominance which sours the relationship.
Frames Are The SOP of Relationships
Those who control frames control the relationship for two reasons:
- The one wins shows he is more powerful -more dominant, more persuasive, or both-.
- One the winner sets his frame, the relationship unfolds within the winner’s rules
Frames carry a code of morals: what’s fair and not fair, what’s good and what’s not good.
And the code of morals sets the “rails” of the relationship. That means that imposing your frame is a bit like imposing your legal system.
This is important because the opposite is also true: when you buy into someone’s frame, you are playing by their rules and your behavior is being judged based on what they believe in.
That not only gives away power but also limits your personal freedom.
A good part of learning social dynamics is learning to see frames and whose frame you are playing by.
As a quick example, let’s rewatch this scene from Mrs. Doubtfire:
Her frame is that the big party is stupid. His frame is that the party is fun.
Whose frame wins? Just look at his face to know the answer: frame battles often happen without a single word being spoken.
Read more in frame control.
#5. Learn How Soft Power Works (AKA: The Judge Role)
In most relationships in your life, you will not deal with coercive power.
You will deal with “soft power“.
Good conversationalists, people who understand psychology and good salesmen are all good at wielding soft power.
But, pardon me the cacophony, the most powerful version of soft power goes to the individual who judges others.
That’s why from now on I will call it “the judge role” -or “the judge”-.
You gain judging powers when people accept your frame and your authority (as we said: most forms of power are connected).
The judge wields power by dispensing (emotional) punishment and rewards (French & Raven, 1959).
The power of judgment provides rewards in the form of compliments, happiness, and acceptance.
And it delivers punishment with withdrawal, criticism, scorn or, more subtly and even more powerfully, with unhappiness, unacceptance, and disappointment.
It’s important to understand the effects of judges in your life because judges decrease your personal agency, and they prevent you from reaching true self-control.
Please Note: Healthy judges are only disappointed when disappointment is called for
Expressing disappointment on a constant basis is an abuse of power and tantamount to emotional manipulation.
See an example here from Mary Cain:
Mary Cain was abused by her trainer who treated her like dirt and constantly criticized her. And she still wanted to go back. She says she “craved his approval”. She is right. And that’s an example of trauma bonding from an abusive judge.
I don’t recommend to abuse of a judge role.
There are moral implications, of course.
But also because abusive forms of soft power don’t work nearly as well with more powerful and more high-quality individuals. Instead, high-quality expressions of power work on everyone.
5.2. Parent/Child And The Judge
There is an overlap between the judge role and the parent/child relationship of transactional analysis (Thomas Harris, 1967).
When children get rebellious in their teens they are rebelling not much against hard rules, but against the soft power of judgment.
Teenagers are claiming their emotional independence from their parents.
Children with very demanding and/or judgemental parents sometimes stay stuck in emotionally dependent child roles throughout their lives. And that’s why learning power dynamics also help you become a better parent.
On the other hand, also ask yourself if your parents are still pushing you into a child role. If as an adult you still feel the need to please your parents, or to have them approve of you, your parents are probably holding too much power on you.
The parent/child roles are replicated in adult relationships as well.
When you become the judge in adult relationships your power is to make the judged emotionally dependent on your approval, a bit like children are dependent on parents’ approval.
This can be a source of extremely powerful dark social power.
PRO Tip: Watch Out For Highly Critical Individuals
Consciously or unconsciously, people who are very severe and demanding are trying to take a judge role and push you in the emotionally dependent child role.
5.3. Who Jumps The Hoops
The judge is the party that makes others “prove themselves to him”.
Proving yourself to others is a major sign of (emotional) dependence and submission.
We have seen many examples in the dating section, including shit tests.
5.4. Who Makes Whom Happy
The other superpower of the judge role is the “right of happiness”.
This sometimes happens in relationships, with the woman becoming the judge and the man who takes on the onus of making her happy.
See: how women control relationships.
5.5. The Shaming Superpower
The judge role is also the platform to launch what I call “shame attacks”.
Shame attacks are a form of coercive power because they threaten to ostracize people not just from the judge, but from the whole group of reference.
The most obvious and direct shame attacks use emotional constructs such as “evil”, “dishonorable”, “disgusting”, “slutty”, “not good enough (for us)” that aim at browbeating and isolating the victim.
You can see examples here:
5.6. Identity-Based Shame Attacks
The nastiest shame attacks seek to undermine us at the core of our identities.
Our identities differ from person to person, but some key traits are common to most of us.
Almost all men, for example, are partial to any attack to their “sense of being a man”.
And almost all women are easy marks for attacks to beauty, femininity, and sexual behavior.
5.7. The Inverted Judge: Guilt-Tripping
Guilt-tripping is a form of covert aggression.
The party who is trying to make you feel guilty does not have the power to force you to do anything.
Usually, you have more power when someone tries to guilt-trip you.
But the guilt-tripper is trying to turn the table and take a judge role from the weaker position.
They make you feel guilty for having power over them and hurting them, or for having power and not using it for good causes -ie.: helping them-.
Albeit from a weaker position, they are still trying to make you act with their negative judgment. They are judging you not worthy of your power and leadership. If you fall for it, you will give them what they want in exchange for them changing their judgemental opinion.
This is an example of guilt-tripping:
She is trying to make me feel guilty for her problems. She is indirectly saying that I am a bad person for not helping her.
You can see the full analysis of guilt-tripping here.
#6. Learn to Do More, With Less (AKA: Law of Social Effort)
“Effort” is the measure of how much effort people are investing to get things done.
In social interactions, effort is measured by the amount of effort people exert to engage with you.
“Effort” is a bit of an umbrella term, so here are some practical examples:
- Talking more to keep the interaction going
- Walking across the room to say hi
- Giving gifts without receiving any back
In a nutshell: the person who invests less looks more powerful, and the person who expends more effort looks less powerful.
Least powerful are those who expend lots of effort for little or no returns.
Paul Cicero in Goodfellas is an extreme example of the power dynamics of effort.
By moving little while others move lots for him, he is the living embodiment of power.
#7. Leverage Resources (AKA: Do Make Some Money)
In our society, there is a strong link between resources and power.
Wealthy individuals are formal or informal advisers of top politicians and they have preferential access to formal and informal levers of power.
Albeit the law is supposedly equal for everyone, the truth is that wealthy individuals enjoy more “exceptions”, and can sometimes avoid punishment by virtue of their friends, status, and power.
There is little to opine here: in our society, lots of resources confer tremendous power.
Today, resources have also delinked from strength. Physically strong individuals work for the rich. The bodyguards’ job is to sell their bodies and risk their own lives and health to preserve the lives and health of the rich.
I’m not advising here that you make your life objective to get rich and make money -indeed, I would advise you not to-. But I do am pointing out the obvious fact that money does empower you.
7.2. The Power of Financial Independence
The beauty of money is that it can buy you freedom and independence.
I quote Nassim Nicholas Taleb here:
(resources) shield you from prostituting your mind and frees you from outside authority–any outside authority.
And you don’t even need that much.
#8. Learn to Leverage The Power of The Law
The legal system can empower the weak to take revenge -or money- from the powerful.
And it can empower the powerful to grow yet more powerful, and abuse the weak.
Theoretically, the legal system should protect people and make for a fairer society.
And in part, it does that.
But only if you know how to use it.
Knowing your rights, what constitutes evidence, how to collect evidence, your likelihood of winning in court, and which lawyer to call and when to call him, can provide you with tremendous power and leverage.
Once you know how to move within the law and how to defend yourself in case things end up in court, you will also grow more confident.
My advice is to know the law, play within the law, and collect evidence to cover your ass.
But you’re unsure, avoid getting to court just because you’re angry. Unless you’re confident of a quick and swift victory, getting mired in court is risky, expensive, and very likely to poison your mood.
8.2. Maximize Your Taxes
Financial guru Robert Kiyosaki says that the powerful and rich find loopholes around taxes.
The really poor get some little government help.
And the masses in the middle-class shoulder most of the taxes.
Being smart with your money and taxes will allow you to retain more power.
#9. Acquire Physical Strength – Or At Least, Stay In Shape
Albeit physical strength and violence are not as linked to power as they used to be, it would be silly to think they don’t matter.
People, especially men, tend to have natural deference towards bigger and more muscular individuals.
Physical strength tends to correlate positively with self-confidence and testosterone, which leads to more dominant behavior, which in turn leads to more confidence and yet more social success, in a self-reinforcing loop.
On the other hand, being out of shape communicates being out of control. It might not be fair, but many look down at those out of shape.
Also read the power of being jacked.
This is an excerpt from Social Power