Most often, the power games we’ll be noticing are the ones where someone who has power sees it threatened and seeks to assert it. A famous scene subtly describing this is the opening scene of The Godfather movie.
It’s a power game that acts on the vertical level, that is between people who have different status and power.
Assuming that this is the only type of power game would be missing out on the fact that all relationships have a power dimension. It’s intrinsic to any relationship as they constantly deal with expectations. Sometimes the expectations are shared. Most often the expectations have been set up based on either person’s idea of reciprocity. It leaves the expectations unsaid.
Either form of expectation leads to dependency, it’s an idea that the other will do something for one. It’s an assumption that the other has to deliver what is due and expected. It doesn’t matter if the expectation has grounds or not for a sense of dependency to establish itself, it just happens.
Once the dependency is established, it confers power to the person one depends on. Such power will not only come through authority or hierarchy. It can also appear bottom-up when a team member doesn’t agree to do as his peers or with the given authority. Power can also shift from one person to the other when one’s energy is being deflected. It can also be taken by a team member when others let them have the power to do so.
I have a vivid memory of a training I attended, where a participant easily succeeded to pull power away from everyone. She felt treated badly on an administrative detail and started complaining with other participants. When the training started again she took up the issue attacking the trainer. For a while, it was observable how she succeeded to pull all the member’s attention to herself making it impossible for the training to continue. She succeeded in doing so, even though participants had regularly experienced this type of behavior from her. It’s a power game best described with Stephen Karpman’s drama triangle. The person complaining had taken up the position of a victim. The training was interrupted as the other participants felt dependent on her to be satisfied, before being able to continue.
Luckily humans have also another way to deal with dependency. It is through trust. Not blind trust. It’s based on a combination of trusting themselves and trusting the other.
Trust transforms the relationship from one using “power over” into one using “power to”.