This one thing is missing from the “power over” vs.” power with” debate and it is crucial

By: Ariana Friedlander Tuesday September 3, 2019 0 comments Tags: Ariana Friedlander

By Ariana Friedlander


Rosabella Consulting

Tears streamed down my face, as I sat there dumbfounded and at a loss for words.

Despite my best efforts to foster a space for open and constructive dialog in this personal situation, I had been hurt beyond measure. Stomped on, chewed out, attacked and belittled, I felt smaller than small. And I just wanted to disappear.friedlander-blog-photo.fixed

I walked away from the conversation lost, dazed, and confused. Any shred of confidence I had before withered away. My inner critic admonished me, "You do this for a living? Well, you clearly suck at it!"

The next day, I processed it all by writing in my journal. What had happened? Where did things go wrong? What can I learn from this experience? I tried to focus on more constructive questions instead of hurtful ones like, how could I be so stupid?

As I worked through it all, something became painfully obvious, I was desperate for this person to like me. And this was a pattern I had been in many times before in my life. The desire, the need for approval, affirmation and affection resulted in situations where I experienced the exact opposite.

One of the things Judith E. Glaser taught in Conversational Intelligence was shifting the interaction dynamics from power over to power with. The need to exert power over others is typically fueled by fear and distrust. Often times, we might not even be aware the we are striving to have power over someone. Small and seemingly innocent actions like convincing someone you are right or wanting to make someone feel ashamed are toxic power over behaviors.

Whereas power with enables co-creating, transformation, and positive change. Power with is about walking side-by-side with another as partners in the journey. Power with is about showing mutual respect and lifting each other up. It's not about control, or exerting dominance or authority.

I thought I was striving for power with in this situation, setting intentions, carefully preparing and opening myself up to another's perspective. What I realized in retrospect was that instead of fostering power with, I was actually giving my power away. My need to be liked fueled this other person's need to have power. And I let her have power over me because I failed to claim my own power within. 

I sutured my emotional wounds and began to rewrite the story in my journal by claiming my power within. As I rewrote the story from needing her approval to acknowledging my inherent worth, thereby letting go of her opinion, I experienced a powerful (pun intended) shift within myself. Instead of feeling small, weak and insignificant, I felt alive, strong and capable.

I realized that, painful as it might have been, this situation was a gift because it enabled me to become aware of a subtle yet important nuance in shifting interactions dynamics from power over to power with.

I began to see this dance more vividly in my own life and in my client's experiences as well. The giving away of one's power in the name of making everyone happy or keeping the peace or needing approval or wanting to be liked or blaming others. The list could go on of all the ways we have habitually given our power away.

There's truly no power with unless there's power within. And when there's a power over dynamic, power within (at the very least with the one exerting power) is missing. To have power within means to own one's agency and focus on the one thing any of us truly has control over, our own thoughts and actions. 

Claiming your power within means letting go of the limiting stories you have told yourself and rewriting all the ways you have habitually given your power away. As you do that, your ability to truly be open to influence, the overarching mindset of Conversational Intelligence, will grow stronger. And the potential of a power with dynamic, sans petty games or the need to be right, is exponentially greater. 

After I rewrote my own story and claimed my power within I started to draw boundaries with compassion. I couldn't change this other person but I could change how I related to her. And sometimes, when power with is not an option the only thing you can do is claim your power within and let go that which you cannot control.


Want to rewrite your story? Join me for a Journal Jam on Friday, Sept. 27. More information and registration is available online here.

Ariana Friedlander

About the Author: Ariana Friedlander

Ariana Friedlander is the founder and principal of Rosabella Consulting, LLC, and has more than nine years of experience working with small businesses, nonprofits and government agencies to create strategies for successful organizational growth.