Power Dynamics In Relationships & The Workplace

Power Dynamics

It wasn’t long before power dynamics began to shift and people settled into their roles: the grade-obsessed student who immediately began assigning tasks and delegating responsibilities, the students who were more than happy to follow the first student’s lead, and the student who made it clear that they were going to ride everyone’s coattails and refuse to contribute. But what if you put two type-A kids on the same team? Was one ready to sit back and let the other take the lead? Most likely not. Yes, there are obviously power dynamics at work here. Let’s get into the specifics of power dynamics and what you need to know about them in order to contribute to a healthy, productive team at work and in your relationships.

What Is Power Dynamics?

Power is defined as a person’s capacity to influence and control others. Power dynamics are the balance or imbalance of a relationship. It is the study of how power influences a relationship between two or more people.

So, power has an impact on every element of social life, from the workplace to the family. Power is not inherently bad. For example, a parent’s capacity to influence their toddler’s actions can assist keep them safe. However, if a person abuses their power, it has the potential to cause significant harm.

When an individual is subjected to abusive uses of authority, they might suffer greatly. Similarly, someone with a lot of power may not know how to use it in a productive and ethical way. A therapist can assist people on all sides of a conflict in developing more healthy power dynamics in their relationships.

Power Classifications

Power gives a person the ability to influence the people, surroundings, and events around them. In the 1950s, psychologists John French and Bertram Raven proposed five power categories (later, they added two more to make seven). These are the several types of power:

#1. Coercive Power:

Coercive Power is the ability to impose punishments in order to dissuade particular actions. A cop, for example, can apprehend thieves.

#2. Rewards Power:

Reward power is the ability to pay out rewards for desirable conduct. A parent, for example, may give their child a cookie in exchange for doing chores.

#3. Formal Power:

Formal authority is often referred to as legitimate or titular power. This authority stems from holding an official position. For example, the CEO of a corporation has the authority to terminate employees who report to them.

#4. Connection Power:

The ability to provide access to certain persons or resources. An agency, for example, can introduce an actor to a film producer.

#5. Referent Power:

The ability to influence others because they love you. For example, a popular, dynamic kid may start a new fashion trend at school.

#6. Informational Power:

Informational power is the influence we get from knowledge and information A spy, for example, may be aware of the location of an enemy base.

#7. Expert Power:

The ability to influence others as a result of one’s superior skills. A skilled carpenter, for example, may wield considerable authority in a town in need of furniture.

In some cases, these sorts of power may overlap. It is typical for a person to wield numerous sorts of power.

Power Dynamics in a Relationship

Power dynamics can and frequently do have an impact on interpersonal relationships. So, power is often equal or close to equal in strong and healthy partnerships. Partners may not have equal levels of power; for example, one partner may have greater financial resources while the other has more social ties. Influence, on the other hand, is frequently reciprocal. Healthy partners frequently collaborate respectfully, and each has a say in decision-making.

A balanced relationship—one in which power is distributed fairly—could be illustrated by some of the following elements:

  • Both partners are aware of their worth.
  • Partners communicate with one another and make decisions based on the sentiments and interests of the other.
  • Even when they disagree, partners respect one another.
  • Partners communicate with one another, especially when problems arise or miscommunications occur.

When there is a power imbalance in the partnership, problems can arise. For example, if a person earns more money than their partner, they may grow to feel entitled to make all financial decisions without consulting their partner. In circumstances of abuse, a person may attempt to limit their partner’s power through seclusion and threats in order to maintain complete control.

Meanwhile, the powerless partner may get angry or feel taken for granted. To defend their own self-esteem, they may disengage from the connection. For example, someone who thinks of oneself as the less beautiful partner in a relationship may feel uneasy and avoid closeness.

When power disparities negatively influence a relationship, couples counseling can help partners articulate their concerns and create healthier behaviors.

Read Also: Power Struggle: How to deal with it in Relationships

Power Dynamics in The Workplace

Power can have a variety of effects on workplace dynamics. Power-related challenges that frequently arise in a professional setting include:

#1. Wage and salary negotiations

When discussing salary at the time of hire or during a review, bargaining leverage comes into play. Employees with stronger bargaining power may be able to obtain higher compensation in some instances. This could occur if the person possesses a distinct set of skills, has raised corporate revenue, or is required by the organization for a specific purpose. In other circumstances, the firm may have more negotiating leverage. This could occur in industries where there is a high level of competition for jobs.

#2. Harassment or bullying

Bullying typically goes unpunished in the workplace due to unequal power dynamics. If a worker with more power bullies another employee, the one being bullied may avoid notifying anybody for fear of retaliation. It is not always easy to obtain a new job, and someone who needs a consistent income may conclude that putting up with bullying is preferable to being without a job. People might also abuse authority in the workplace by requiring others to perform menial activities unrelated to their employment (such as getting coffee) or to tolerate sexual harassment.

#3. Arbitration

This procedure illustrates how a neutral party resolves a dispute between two or more parties. The impartial party, or arbitrator, makes a decision based on the evidence presented by the parties. Arbitration is a private process that takes less time than a trial, making it beneficial for resolving workplace disagreements. However, because the arbitrator has the authority to make a binding ruling, it is critical that the arbitrator be truly neutral and not swayed by one party’s dominance over the other. When arbitration is successful, the person or group who has been mistreated by a power imbalance may be awarded damages or other remedies.

When an individual is harmed by a power imbalance at work, a therapist can assist them in developing techniques for voicing their own demands in a professional manner.

Oppression, Power, and Intersectionality

When one group utilizes unfair acts of authority to control another group, this is oppression. The oppressed party may be targeted because of their ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality, or other characteristics.


Some forms of tyranny, such as slavery, have clear consequences. Oppression, on the other hand, might take more subtle forms. A qualified deaf employee, for example, may be denied a promotion due to his impairment. A transgender lady may avoid taking public transportation out of fear of verbal harassment. Even when acts of prejudice do not result in physical injury, they can limit a person’s ability to move around the world, pursue their goals, or gain influence.


According to the intersectionality theory, an individual might be a member of both advantaged and disadvantaged groups. A Muslim immigrant, for example, may wield some power as a result of his male gender and rich family. He may, however, encounter discrimination because of his nationality and beliefs. The concepts of privilege and prejudice are not mutually exclusive.

Individuals who belong to various minority groups may face specific disadvantages as a result of the overlap. One study, for example, compared the typical pay of cybersecurity specialists in the United States.

  • Caucasian men earned an annual salary of $124,000.
  • Men of color (Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native) earned an average of $121,000 per year.
  • Caucasian women earned $121,000 a year as well.
  • Women of color earned an average of $115,000 per year.

While both white females and men of color had low earnings. However, because of the interplay of racism and sexism, women of color received significantly less money than the other two groups.

Being a member of a privileged class does not always imply that one abuses their power. A neurotypical individual, for example, is not obligated to abuse someone with an intellectual handicap. One person cannot be held responsible for society’s stigma. However, one ethical individual does not rule out the possibility of oppression. Outside parties or the culture at large may discriminate against the individual with an intellectual handicap. Even if the neurotypical individual does not actively endeavor to use their influence, a power imbalance will most certainly exist between these two parties. Individuals with authority must use caution to prevent inadvertently harming others.

If you believe that harmful power dynamics have influenced your daily life, a qualified therapist can assist you in resolving the problem. Therapy is a secure and private setting in which to seek help.

Advice for Building Healthy Power Dynamics in Your Business

Power dynamics can help organizations function smoothly. Knowing how to use power appropriately is an important skill that you and your staff should develop. Use these tips to help you create healthy power dynamics in the workplace.

  • Set clear boundaries: When starting a new project or organizing a new team, ensure that everyone knows exactly their role and who they should report to. Clarifying power from the start of a professional relationship can make all parties involved feel more at ease in their roles and less concerned with battling for power.
  • Focus on the goal: Ensure that everyone in the company or on the team understands what they are working for together. Emphasizing and re-emphasizing a shared goal can help teams collaborate more effectively rather than compete for power and authority.
  • Know your team: Understand that everyone in your company or team may be motivated differently. Learn about the individuals and develop ways to reward and motivate them in order to boost their creativity and productivity.
  • Practice varied input: Make it a regular practice to gather feedback from your team in different ways. While some employees with significant power in the company may feel comfortable speaking up during an all-hands meeting, others with less power may not. Ensure you’re getting feedback from everyone on the team by considering the power dynamics of each meeting.
  • Address power dynamics: When in a meeting, address the power dynamics immediately. Establish norms for how people should speak and respond to one another during the meeting, especially if you want to hear from those with little company power.
  • Model the behavior: Model the behavior you want to see from your employees. For example, if you want employees to feel comfortable sharing issues with their management, show them how to publicly respond to and address a problem from someone in the company.

Any connection, whether personal or professional, will inevitably involve power dynamics. Create and maintain healthy power dynamics in the workplace through awareness and modeling.

Can You Change Power Dynamics?

Power dynamics may change in certain situations. In some cases, changing or balancing power dynamics is easier said than done. Power dynamics in the workplace, for example, are usually stable unless major changes occur at a company or management level. On the other hand, romantic and friendship dynamics can be balanced if both parties are prepared to make positive changes to improve their relationship.

Think this: power is not fixed, but rather dynamic! Power can change quickly in a company or relationship since it is fluid and dependent on who is in charge.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Meaning of Power Dynamics?

Power dynamics is the study of how power impacts relationships between two or more people. Power is not inherently bad. For example, a parent’s capacity to influence their toddler’s actions can assist keep them safe.

What Does Power Dynamic Mean in a Relationship?

In a good power dynamic relationship, both parties attempt to meet each other’s wants, and it should go without saying that it’s unfair if your partner expects you to tend to them without reciprocating the favor.

How Does Power Dynamics Affect Us?

At practically every level of human contact, power dynamics set the tone. They shape an organization’s approach to engaging its clients and even how a government treats its citizens, responds to the opposition, and enforces changes.

Read Also: Power Struggle: How to deal with it in Relationships

How Can I Change the Power Dynamics in Relationships?

If Your Partner Isn’t Treating You Right, Here Are Ways To Change Your Relationships Power Dynamics

  1. Allow Your Thoughts and Concerns to Be Heard.
  2. Pose a Few Questions to Yourself.
  3. Make use of “I” statements.
  4. Request reinforcements.
  5. Maintain Consistency.
  6. Bring Your A-Game.
  7. Make Your Relationship a Practice.
  8. Make it clear what you want.
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