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Learn to Play the Power Game

“Learn to Play the Power Game”

Power is the ability to influence both people and situations. This article explains the different types of power and how they can be used for a business’s survival and advantage, and illustrates various techniques that can be used for resolving conflict in sales and making deals. The article is directed at a female CEO, bud that does not lessen its value for others.

What do you feel when you read the title of this article? A little indignant…a little annoyed…somewhat insulted…as if your integrity may be compromised? In business, learning to play the power game is self-defense. Learning to play the power game is business survival. Not knowing how to play it, or refusing to learn, could be the beginning of the end of your business.

Power is not a dirty word. Power is simply influence. Power is the degree of influence one has over another. It is derived from several sources:

  • Legitimate power is based on position in the hierarchy of an organization.
  • Reward power is the ability to offer rewards to another for certain behavior.
  • Coercive power is based on the ability to punish undesirable behavior.
  • Expert power is based on particular skill or knowledge.
  • Information power is based on getting information from the inside track.
  • Referent power is based on a person’s attractiveness to another, or on connections with other powerful people.

The degree to which one exercises any type of power is based on the number of people influenced and the range of activities affected. Many business women focus on their client’s power and react to this pressure. They react by trying harder to please and to satisfy their client’s business demands. After all, our clients are our livelihood. We must please them. We need their business. We need it to succeed.

Pleasing our clients, however, must not be at the expense of the integrity of our product or its worth. U.S. Department of Labor studies confirm that, in the corporate world of big business, in executive, administrative, and managerial occupations, it is still common practice to pay women less than men for equal jobs, and for women to hold less than half of the higher paying, higher level positions. (“Highlights of Women’s Earnings in2003).” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Report 978, 2004.) It’s even worse in manufacturing.

Women who now own their own businesses report they are getting business, but at a lower price from their quote, or having to include additional features at no extra charge…"some of something is worth more than all of nothing." When we yield to this pressure, we feel taken or cheated. If we don’t, we’ve probably rationalized that, "we did what it takes to get the business." But did we? Was this really a situation of having to give up something (maybe a lot) to get any business from this client? Or, was it that we felt pressured and intimidated by the client, the client’s position and authority, and reacted on a level far apart from our business logic and acumen?

Let’s look back at a portion of last issue’s article which reviewed businesswomen’s image to the male dominated corporate world.

"…[some male] clients may have a difficult time "seeing" you as a competent business person, if their images of women are of traditional mothers, wives/girlfriends, and daughters. The traditional roles for males are positions of power, authority, expertise; business owner/executive."…

In the last article we discussed looking the part; this article deals with feeling the part. How do we as women view clients who are often male and in positions of power and authority? How do we react when these people put pressure on us to lower our price, to include more services, to meet unfavorable time frames?

If you are the owner of your business, you are also its main sales person, deal do-er, employees’ manager, implementer, employees’ coach, and usually you retained all the traditional family roles. Wearing so many hats often confuses and mixes up the very separate behaviors required for each of these roles. When we add the stress and fatigue of juggling all these hats, our strength behaviors are often minimized when we need them the most. We need to be so many things to so many people, and are so close to the center of all the activity, that we may intermingle the roles and behaviors. We become a composite, and all the behaviors blend into one.

As owner and leader of your business, it’s imperative that you get your clients to see you as a strong and powerful person, a person who can handle the business. Logically and rationally, we can accept and handle this premise. Yet, when the power game (pressure) is played on us — something happens which throws out our logic — we can’t play back. Why aren’t we comfortable with that power role, and how do we learn the power game without compromising our principles?

We need to discover whether or not we are trying to do business with a traditional value-structure mind-set. A mind-set that plays into the traditional roles where males have the power and authority and females acquiesce. If we are, then, when the pressure or power is applied, we just might find that "we have met the enemy…and the enemy is us."

Think back to your early childhood… Who occupied most of the positions of power and authority? Who were the people in charge? How were you taught to deal with people in positions of authority? Were you allowed to speak your mind, or were you told to be respectful? Were you encouraged to be a winner or were you told to get along? Were you encouraged to stand up for your rights, or were you told to stop being stubborn? Were you encouraged to attempt scientific or athletic pursuits, or were you guided to stay with teaching, nursing, secretarial studies? Were you encouraged towards independent actions or were you guided towards fitting into group activities? In other words, were you directed towards individuality, independence, and diversity? Or were you patterned towards cohesiveness, conformity, and uniformity?

Today, we know and can verbalize how absurd these practices were. Yet, we were exposed to many years of seeing and being told what women should do, how women should be, what was right or wrong for women, what was good or bad. These are the paradigms of our youth, early adulthood, our culture. They remain as a large part of our value structure. And, they just may be the paradigm hot buttons that cause you to buy into a power game where there will be only one winner. How we were taught to deal with authority may be how we are still reacting to it subconsciously. Now, how do we break out of the barriers and move towards more effective communication and the power game?


Recognize how you view authority today versus the influences of your culture and formative years. Identify the contradictions and develop a strategy to over-ride old paradigms. For instance:

"We both hold positions of power. We both will exercise our authority to ensure we get the best results. We both will benefit from a good business decision. Unless we both benefit, it’s not a good business decision."


Your objective should be to obtain business within specific, well-defined guidelines. Know your guidelines and how you arrived at them. With preparation, you will remain confident of your position. If new information is presented, you’ll have a framework to evaluate the adjustment and influence the decision.

  • Product costs
  • Labor costs
  • Profit
  • Current competitive rates


There’s less need to employ the power game where mutual trust is established. Let your client know you conduct business fairly and firmly. Work to develop bonds versus barriers. Sending the message that working together you will secure the most benefits. (Note: Business trust may or may not be the same as friendship. There is still a double standard on this issue. Men have no problem with and will support and do business with friends. Women are suspect if they want to do business with friends.


Once into the business discussion, refer to your product and services objectively versus personally. If a client is objecting to your product, ask what or how could the product be more useful. Listen and weigh the cost of including it in the present proposal, or adding it. Separate you from it. As often as possible, use indefinite pronouns: it, that, instead of personal pronouns: you, me, I.

The current proposal or offer maximizes the most effective use of expense to revenue. The additional features can be added for a minimal expenditure which will multiply the total value and end-result.


Often, valuable time is wasted debating tangent issues versus the main issues. Keep reminding yourself of the main points…write them down and check them off as they’re covered. If something else is introduced, set is aside for another meeting or dispose of it entirely. Allow enough time to discuss completely. Don’t be rushed into hasty decisions. Give yourself enough time to analyze the cost and value of changes to the proposal.

"Workers today may not be of the same caliber of yesterday, however let’s solve the scheduling issue first. Before any numbers change, it will be necessary to review everything.


Do your homework. Know your latitude and limitations. Know your client and your competition. As various components of your offer are brought up for review, be prepared to explain their value. If you begin to feel threatened, it’s probably a warning that an old paradigm is surfacing. Don’t get defensive, get expansive. Demonstrate your goal to provide solutions with the best product possible and your willingness to adjust your package to fit their parameters…and yours. Be sure to keep your posture erect, but not rigid. Keep your voice and tone neutral and objective, versus emotional and defensive. As you reach the various stages of agreement, state your offer (dropping your inflection at the end), then STOP TALKING. DON’T SAY ANOTHER WORD. Let your client be the next person to speak. You have a much better chance of gaining agreement when you use this technique.

"Realizing how important it is [for both sides] to provide the best services/product possible, with your approval the faster delivery can be included for only an additional 10%." [Drop your inflection at the end of the statement and then…DON’T SAY ANOTHER WORD…WAIT PATIENTLY UNTIL YOUR CLIENT SPEAKS.]

If your client agrees, you’ve concluded a win-win power play. If your client disagrees, it’s not over; it’s simply in the next phase. Ask your client to help you understand the situation from his perspective, then look for alternative solutions together. When you make your next offer, all the same guidelines apply. This type of conversation may involve several offers and counter-offers. In sales, the sale has not begun until the client says, "No," seven times. It’s all part of the power game. Give and take…don’t capitulate.


As dreadful as this sounds, it’s probably the most important rule in the game. Know your bottom line and be prepared to walk away before you agree to something that is not in the best interest of your company. Isn’t the ability to say, "No," one of the main reasons you decided to leave the corporate world; to wear ten hats, and to work nineteen hours a day? Didn’t you leave to be able to take the credit, to make the decisions, to reap the benefits? And, didn’t you leave for the authority to …just say, "No," (I won’t let you take advantage of me.) Then, we need to get comfortable with the power to walk away from a poor business deal.

"It seems as if we’ve reached an impasse. This proposal offers you the best possible service within reasonable, cost-effective rates. To attempt to provide the same services for less money would not be a good business decision for my company or yours. My company couldn’t provide the same level of quality and your company would be buying on price rather than value. In the long run, it’s the value we remember and it’s the value that counts."

It’s not necessary to sound preachy, just confidently aware that your company represents value. Providing real value is influence of the most powerful kind. Feel competent with the power to stay and exercise your influence in the decision making process, and confident with the power to know when to walk away.

Learning to play the power game effectively is a skill. The more you practice, the more effective you’ll become. Don’t shy away from those situations which may feel uncomfortable. Treat them as opportunities to practice getting better at business…getting better at the power game.

Writer: Cynthia Francis

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