Power imbalances are everywhere, and they can show up in subtle ways, even during simple, initial interactions. Ever had someone say “it’s nice to see you” at a first meeting, then repeat your name ad nauseam? The person could be attempting to build rapport, or they might just be deploying tactics they’ve gleaned from leadership literature.
Sure, some leadership advice can be helpful (most people do appreciate eye contact and a smile). Still, it can also be shallow, unnatural and, ultimately, detrimental — for example, the oft-repeated suggestion to turn up the volume to seem more commanding. Part of the problem? Management books and commentaries often oversimplify and rarely offer useful guidance about the skills and behavior required to get things done, according to McKinsey & Company.
Subtle power moves, whether off the cuff or calculated, have the potential to throw their recipient for a loop, effectively giving the person using them the upper hand. Sometimes, it can be challenging to determine another person’s intentions, especially if you’re not well-acquainted with them. But when it comes to power imbalances, impact just might be more important than intent: If you feel like your power is slipping away, it probably is.