It is inevitable to regularly find ourselves in power plays.
People will not necessarily aim for them, but their needs and desires will quickly lead to a situation in which they for example want to have something or want to be right. Once it becomes a question of yes or no, the power play can start.
One of both takes the position that stands for the yes whereas the other will take the no. It’s the moment where other options seem to disappear. The situation shifts from whatever both might have in common or try to achieve together, to one where the focus suddenly is on the self. Whatever the other might want or what the situation requires is lost out of sight.
Take, for example, two kids. Richard and Lucy are happily playing together. After a while, Lucy decides that the game should be played differently and wants Richard to follow her idea. Maybe it’s the way she proposes it, maybe it’s that Richard isn’t listening, they both end up fighting with one another.
As it’s a power play they then ask someone else to help them figure out who is right.
Stepping in as an arbiter can quickly become a trap especially if deciding means to support one of both and not the other. While this may naturally also be one’s role, it rarely is the first thing to do.
In the case, as described it most certainly isn’t the role parents would have for example. Their role would be one of educating the kids. Taking up such a role shifts the task and transforms it into a process to help the children solve the situation on their own.
The first step is to help them understand that they both can have a different position. It’s something children have to learn and adults sometimes have to be reminded of. There is something happening within the other, and it needs to be recognized and seen by both.
Another detail they may need to be reminded of is the situation they both are sharing. If they want to play together, they have to realize that that is their objective not deciding how to play the game. Sometimes teams find themselves stuck in deciding how to do something too, forgetting that their priority is to serve the customer.
Understanding their common objective may be subject to understand how much of a priority playing together is for them, or what else it is that they want. They have to understand for themselves how much they want their objective and if there is one they actively share. By validating what is important to them they will discover not only what they want individually but also how important that is for them. And if it is a common objective they can start to realize that the common objective might be more important than forcing the other to play their game. It automatically removes that option and creates space for other options.
The last element necessary to help children in such a situation is to normalize their desires and the fact that they both want to attain their objectives. Children have to learn that there is no reason to criticize themselves for wanting something. That remains true for adults. It is normal that some people will invest more time in seeking to serve the customer whereas others will seek to optimize the process allowing to serve the customer. There is no one right way to do things.
Well used, recognizing differences, validating each-others objectives, and normalizing the respective approaches can make power plays superfluous.
Or said differently, they put the relationship first and being right second, without denying anyone’s self.