Power and Communication

Power influences our communication

It defines much of our communication and why we do what we do. There may be many reasons why you and I show up for this class each class period. Some of those reasons deal with power.

  • You are reading this blog because I said it is part of an assignment where you can earn points toward a final grade
  • You are taking this class because someone paid your tuition and they expect you to show up for class in exchange
  • I show up because, if I don’t, the university will dock pay from my check or they may even fire me

What are some other reasons why you show up for class that deal with power?

So, power does influence our communication. Let’s examine how. First, let’s start with a definition:

Power is the ability to influence the attainment of goals sought by yourself or others.

Go back to the bullet-ed list above and apply the definition.

  • The university has power over me by stopping my paycheck yet…
  • I have power over the university because I teach many classes, get good reviews from students and teachers and I’m cheap (compared to tenure track professors).

Here’s an interesting concept: No group member is powerless. Even if you don’t exert any power you still influence the team’s attainment of goals. If you just sit on your thumbs you are influencing the group’s attainment of goals as much as if you pitched in to help.

Power isn’t limited to one source.

Hitler certainly wielded power. Yet, the French Resistance demonstrated power by fighting and undermining Hitler’s commands.

french resistancehitler

Communication researchers have defined three types of power:

  • Dominance – power over – active – control it all
  • Prevention – power from – reactive – get it back
  • Empowerment – power to – proactive – expand power

Dominant power focuses on my gain in power is your loss. That’s Hilter. His goal was to control it all and limit power to others.

Who are some “non-Hitler like” examples of people who have dominant power over you?

Preventative power fights to prevent dominant power. That’s the French Resistance. They fought to get their power back and they were willing to risk their lives and kill others to do it. It may be similar to when you challenged your parents about your curfew time. You fought to prevent their dominant power but at risk of being grounded for a month.

  • When someone had dominant power over you, how did you exhibited preventative power?
  • Preventative power comes with risks. What are some of the risks?

Empowerment: The best of both worlds

Empowerment focuses on helping everyone to achieve their goals. A leader, in this case, actively seeks to increase the readiness levels of followers. By creating an empowering environment the followers accomplish tasks without the leader watching over their shoulders.

I am the faculty advisor for CentralNewsWatch.  If I am sick, or simply forget to show up for class, the CentralNewsWatch team knows to continue on without me. There have been times when I didn’t show up until the day of the newscast and students took care of everything. I’ve been an adviser to student television news crews for over 20 years. Not once did we miss a newscast because I didn’t show up.

That’s because I create an empowering environment in that class. There are certain goals I want the class to reach, but the team defines what other goals to work toward.

I can’t “empower” you, but I can create an empowering environment.


A real world example of empowerment

Successful leaders in business and industry do the same thing. It’s the approach Futura Industries in Layton, Utah takes.

The company makes aluminum products ranging from display counters for department stores to the chrome trim on Mac trucks.

They believe they hire knowledgeable people to run the equipment on the manufacturing floor. So, why would the front office tell them how to move the equipment around to produce a new product? You don’t work the floor or the machinery… they do.

The company’s philosophy is to tell the crew what needs to be to produce, give them a budget and then let them figure it out.  They generally get a better answer than if management came up with a plan and, more importantly, the employees take “ownership” in the product because they had input.

It’s one of the reasons why Futura has won numerous manufacturing and safety awards. Government agencies and the Salt Lake Tribune describe it as one of the top five companies to work for in the state of Utah.

So how much does power influence us?

In the famous Milgram Obedience Studies it turns out power has a HUGE power over what we say and do. Watch this 10 minute video to find out more.

(NOTE: The experiment focuses on the person pushing the button, NOT the person being “shocked.”)
Your Assignment

Post a response to the What power does power have over you? Canvas discussion board  about how power influences your communication.

  • Give us an example of dominant or preventative power or empowerment that you’ve encountered.
  • React to the Milgram’s study video. If you were the person pushing the button, how far would you have continued pushing the button before you stood up to authority?

See Blog#1:Power for due dates and times. Again, I hate to assign a length but a comment ranging from 150- 200 words gives you an idea of the depth I’m expecting. Your posts must be substantive. By substantive I mean more than “Hey, my boss has power over me.” That may be the case but explain how the boss uses that power. What does she say or do to make you understand her power? How does it feel?

While I do love your comments to this blog, if you want points for this assignment post your answers to the correct assignment on Canvas.

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