Navigating Power Plays 

When was the last time you got caught up in a power struggle? Who was the other player? A lazy co-worker? A manipulative boss? A controlling spouse or irresponsible teenager? Or perhaps that passive-aggressive customer service representative snagged you after you had to navigate automated voicemail limbo and wait on hold for 20 minutes? Power conflicts can feel like being trapped in a whirlpool of anger, frustration and helplessness that we just can’t seem to get out of! The pull of someone else’s agenda yanks us off balance and can trigger us to reactivity and regret. No matter who our opponent is, they are hell-bent on showing us who’s boss!

 And then there’s that part of us that instinctively responds: “You’re not the boss of me! I’ll show you who’s got the power!” The tug of war that ensues can destroy relationships, ruin careers, and—when played out on the world stage—even bring an entire nation to its knees. 

 url-15Think of it this way. A power play is a bit like a rip tide. The worst thing we can do is fight it and swim against it. We will push ourselves to the point of exhaustion if we do that. Power struggles have a similar dynamic. And yet, our neurological make-up is hard-wired to fight! 

 What if there was another way to be with power? What if we could engage with power in new ways that generate a deeper level of fulfillment, satisfaction and effectiveness in the world—and thereby swim out of the riptide to safety?

 There is much confusion in the world about power: what it is, who holds it, what it means, how it works. We have a push/pull relationship with power: we want it but are afraid of it. Perhaps the reason we are conflicted about power is that we are thinking about fundamentally different varieties.

 The way the world looks at power is based on externals—such as money, fame, class, political connections, social status. Worldly power always has an agenda, and is selfish or self-serving. It achieves its goals by force, domination, control or manipulation and is often abusive, arrogant and self-aggrandizing. It is fear-based, exclusive and hierarchical and tends to squelch others or push them down in order to feel powerful.

 In contrast, soulful or spiritual power guides and inspires. It is humble, quiet and unassuming; its source and energy are internal. Soulful power is about authentic self-expression, about service and making a difference. It is love-based, inclusive, and is not threatened by others having power. It stands freely on its own. It simply is. And it is mighty.

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