Power is a measurement of an entity‘s ability to control its environment, and the behavior of other entities. Authority on the other hand is often used for power perceived as legitimate by our social structure. Although power can be seen as evil or unjust, the exercise of power is accepted both as endemic and a necessity to humans as social beings.

A comprehensive study of power can be seen as various forms of constraint on human action, but it is also that which makes action possible, although in a limited scope. Since power operates both relationally and reciprocally, the balance of power in any relationships therefore professes that all parties to any relationships must have some power. The use of power need not involve coercion (force or the threat of force); rather it should closely be more like influence.

Given that power is not innate and can be granted to others, to acquire power you must possess or control a form of power currency. Power can be distinguish as

Primary power – the direct and personal use of force for coercion; &

Secondary power, which may involve the threat of force or social constraint.

Sources of power

Power may be held through:

Delegated authority (for example in the democratic process)

Social class (material wealth can equal power)

Resource currency (material items such as money, property, food)

Personal or group charisma

Ascribed power (acting on perceived or assumed abilities)

Expertise (ability, skills – the power of medicine to bring about health.

Persuasion (direct, indirect, or subliminal)

Knowledge (granted or withheld, shared or kept secret)

A Diety


Force (violence, military might, coercion).

Moral persuasion (including religion)

Operation of group dynamics (such as public relations)

Social influence of tradition (compare ascribed power)

In relationships; domination/submissiveness

The 5 Categories of Power

1. Positional power

Also called “legitimate power”, it is the power of an individual because of the relative position and duties of the holder of the position within an organization. Legitimate power is formal authority delegated to the holder of the position. It is usually accompanied by various attributes of power such as uniforms, offices etc. This is the most obvious and also the most important kind of power.

2. Referent power

Referent power is the power or ability of individuals to attract others and build loyalty. It’s based on the charisma and interpersonal skills of the power holder. A person may be admired because of specific personal trait, and this admiration creates the opportunity for interpersonal influence. Here the person under power desires to identify with these personal qualities, and gains satisfaction from being an accepted follower.

Nationalism and patriotism count towards an intangible sort of referent power. For example, soldiers fight in wars to defend the honor of the country. This is the second least obvious power, but the most effective. Advertisers have long used the referent power of sports figures for products endorsements, for example. The charismatic appeal of the sports star supposedly leads to an acceptance of the endorsement.

3. Expert power

Expert power is an individual’s power deriving from the skills or expertise of the person and the organization’s needs for those skills and expertise. Unlike the others, this type of power is usually highly specific and limited to the particular area in which the expert is trained and qualified.

4. Reward power

Reward power depends on the ability of the power wielder to confer valued material rewards, it refers to the degree to which the individual can give others a reward of some kind such as benefits, time off, desired gifts, promotions or increases in pay or responsibility. This power is obvious but also ineffective if abused. People who abuse reward power can become pushy or became reprimanded for being too forthcoming or ‘moving things too quickly’.

5. Coercive power

Coercive power is the application of negative influences. It includes the ability to demote or to withhold other rewards. It is the desire for valued rewards or the fear of having them withheld that ensures the obedience of those under power. Coercive power tends to be the most obvious but least effective form of power as it builds resentment and resistance from the people who experience it.

6. Informational power

Informational power is based on the potential use of informational resources. This influence can occur through such means as rational argument, persuasion, or factual data. Members of a group can make information into power by giving it to others who need it, by keeping it to themselves, by organising it in some way, by increasing it, or even by falsifying it.

Power Tactics

People use more than rewards, threats, and information to influence others. In everyday situations people use a variety of power tactics to push or prompt others into particular action. Some of these tactics include bullying, collaboration, complaining, criticising, demanding, disengaging, evading, humour, inspiring, manipulating, negotiating, socialising, and supplicating.

These power tactics can be classified along three different dimensions: softness, rationality, and laterality

 Soft and hard

Soft tactics take advantage of the relationship between person and the target. It is more indirect and interpersonal (e.g. collaboration, socialising). Conversely, hard tactics are harsh, forceful, direct, and rely on concrete outcomes. However, they are not more powerful than soft tactics. In many circumstances, fear of social exclusion can be a much stronger motivator than some kind of physical punishment.

 Rational and Non-rational

Rational tactics of influence make use of reasoning, logic, and sound judgment, whereas non-rational tactics rely on emotionality and misinformation. Examples of each include bargaining and persuasion, and evasion and put downs, respectively.

Unilateral and bilateral

Bilateral tactics, such as collaboration and negotiation, involve reciprocity on the part of both the person influencing and their target. Unilateral tactics, on the other hand, are enacted without any participation on the part of the target. These tactics include disengagement and fait accompli.

People tend to vary in their use of power tactics, with different types of people opting for different tactics. For instance, interpersonally oriented people tend to use soft and rational tactics.

Machiavellians, however, tend to use non – rational tactics. Moreover, extraverts use a greater variety of power tactics than do introverts. Further, men tend to use bilateral and direct tactics, whereas women tend to use unilateral and indirect tactics. People will also choose different tactics based on the group situation, and based on who they are trying to influence. It is interesting to note that people also tend to shift from soft to hard tactics when they face resistance.


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