Monday, August 1, 2011

Some behavioural aspects of ‘Power’

Situation 1: You are caught by a traffic cop while you are trying to race through the red light. He has three options at that time: To fine you for jumping the signal or to ask for a small bribe to ‘settle’ the matter or to just let you go, may be, with a verbal warning. Haven’t we seen cops exercising one of these options from time to time? Now think about this—by levying a fine and providing you a proper receipt, his revenue objective (given by his bosses) is met. And by taking a small bribe, he earns some additional money. But what does he get by simply letting you off?
Situation 2: A child has not finished his homework and his teacher finds it out. She has some options as well: To punish the child (like asking him to stand-up for the entire period or asking him to stand outside the class etc.), or to send a note to the parents reporting non-completion of homework or simply pardon the child! Why would she opt for the pardoning route?
Situation 3: Your school going daughter demands an expensive gadget from you—something that you can afford with some stretch but it is not something that you would normally buy her on your own i.e. without her insistence on having it. And then you actually end up buying it for her.
Situation 4: You are a first time people manager. As part of your new role, you get to decide salary rises for employees within your span of control, sanction/reject their leave requests, make decisions on which training programmes they should be nominated for etc. Also, as part of your new role, you have budgetary responsibilities for your department/function, you get to set annual objectives for your department etc. Question: what are your precise feelings when you make specific decisions that directly affect individual employees—say granting salary hikes, approving leave claims etc.
Situation 5: You are walking on a footpath that leads towards a bus stop, where you want to catch a bus to your destination. And you suddenly realise that the bus you wanted to catch, stops next to you, owing to a traffic jam. Your natural instinct draws you towards the bus and you make an attempt to board it, even if it is not a designated /official stop. Your behavior being not consistent with the rule, the bus conductor doesn’t allow you to board and asks you to walk up to a proper bus stop to catch the bus. However, in a similar situation, if you were to first ask for conductor’s prior permission to board the bus(before attempting to board it on your own) he would have had two options: either to allow you to board or disallow. In that case, he allows you to board!
Is there something common in the above situations that look seemingly disparate?
When I ponder, I do find a common thread. A thread that clearly tells me that people derive subtle but definite satisfaction out of holding power to influence someone’s destiny! I know, destiny is a big word, but I say it in a limited context of a small part of life—even though it may be short lived or many a time not so significant/profound E.g. with reference to the cop’s example above—when the cop lets go the defaulter without any penal action, he actually makes a small difference to the defaulter’s life, and he knows it, more so, he enjoys that feeling.
In the other situation, when the daughter was gifted the thingamajig, the father’s behaviour wasn’t predominantly motivated by a desire to grant her wish, as much as a motivation(almost compelling one) to feel reassured that he had a wherewithal to make a difference to one part of her life! As a (loving) father of two daughters I hate to believe in my own argument, but I know it represents an intricate reality of what is generally wrapped within commonly known ‘power motivation.’
And now let me add another twist. We all are judgmental, sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly. When Sachin Tendulkar gets out chasing an outswinger, almost every such time we pass judgments like ‘he shouldn’t have even attempted to play that ball’ or ‘he was right in going for that shot and would have even succeeded, but for the uneven bounce on the wicket’ and so on. Or, when Lata Mangeshkar sings a racy number, our verdict goes like ‘it doesn’t befit her stature’ or ‘a song is song—how does it matter what genre it belongs to?’ etc. We keep passing such judgments, but, most of the times lack an ability to execute any tangible actions arising from those, since many such possible actions are completely beyond our scope of influence. However, there are many situations where we possess a capability of executing our judgments. E.g. in the above example of traffic police: clearly, the fact that the cop stopped the commuter, shows, that in his judgment, the wrong act was committed. He also had capability of taking punitive (in this case) action, which could have been a logical consequence of his judgment that an act in contravention of law was committed. And yet, he chose to let go the defaulter. Why? That is simply because, people in power positions (even though some of those may at times be just the perceived power positions!),like to enjoy freedom to act in a self- empowered manner—and many a time such acts of theirs could actually be against the normative frameworks or to use a simple term, against the applicable rules. However, I am not necessarily suggesting that the human nature/bahaviour, by definition, gravitates towards anarchy. It simply means that even within the set rules, laws etc. people like to have their own ways of dealing with deviations.
Now if we combine the following two phenomena:
‘Intrinsic drive to influence personal lives (in fact, most of the times, fractions of lives) of others’
‘A need to feel free and empowered to pardon non-normative behaviours of others, despite having an ability to enforce norms,’
we can clearly appreciate how important it is to understand these fine aspects of ‘Power Motivation.’
Indeed, more we think, experience and reflect on the real life we live/face, more we realise how difficult(almost impossible!) it is to wrap all such finer aspects of human behaviours in theoretical forms. That’s precisely the beauty of human behaviours and that’s the challenge as well!


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Ketan.

Ketan Vanjara wrote"Good one. Thanks for sharing."

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Chickkoo….your example is very relevant…not at all silly…I knew of such a peon in Thane court during my initial decade of work…he was almost a demi-God!

From: Saylee Mokashi []
Sent: Tuesday, August 02, 2011 8:26 PM
To: Valsangkar, Abhay (Abhay)
Subject: Re: new post

Hi Baba,

Very good article & some very interesting points.

One silly example that comes to mind of people in positions of "perceived power" - even peons in government offices seem to think they have the ultimate power to influence our lives :)

Loved reading another amazing article.


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Pallavi.

You are making an interesting point about an emotional decision and a rational decision. In my limited experience, every decision has a blend of both—because as a human being we can’t separate the two very easily. Some exceptional individuals have shown examples of making ‘close to pure’ rational decisions, but they will always remain in a microscopic minority. I want you to consider one other nuance: i.e. when people genuinely feel that they are taking pure rational decisions, they are blind to the fact that the emotions are also influencing the process—use of ‘power’ examples in the blog have something common with this blindness; or shall we say lack of conscious awareness?..think about it.


From: []
Sent: Tuesday, August 02, 2011 4:39 PM
To: Valsangkar, Abhay (Abhay)
Subject: RE: new post

Hi Abhay,

Read the blog. It made me think that the decisions can also differ based on the frame of mind that you are in while making that decision. A person may take two different decisions in the same situation but in different mental states in that particular situation. Especially, where you are to take decisions/make judgments that affect others directly i.e. execute the power – as you have mentioned, how important it is to curb your emotions and make as rational decisions as possible.

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Buck.


From: B Kul []
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2011 8:01 PM
To: Valsangkar, Abhay (Abhay)
Subject: RE: new post

Very nuanced view - I will find it useful to analyze situations!


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Chetan.

Very good point. The way I look at it—‘’power” is very important but not the only driver in decision-making; therefore, we see an evidence of two decisions for two different people in same/similar situations. I think at some point I should attempt to list down several factors that simultaneously influence the decision making process. Thanks for setting my mind thinking.


From: Chetan Shah []
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2011 8:42 PM
To: Valsangkar, Abhay (Abhay)
Subject: RE: new post

Well written and interesting perspective. A related concept is bias in decision-making even when “Power motivation” is the subliminal reasoning.

So, in the exact situations what causes the person in power to act differently with two different people? Is it the person’s behavior, is it because they like the person?

Keep sharing them. Also, note my personal email address, since it will be more permanent. Hope all is well.


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks, Lokesh.

It is interesting that you feel same/similar factors influence people behaviours at micro and macro levels. And I think, to a large extent this is true.


Date: Tue, 2 Aug 2011 03:00:57 +0000
Subject: [PTV1975] Re: new post

Abhay, Went thru the posting on your blog. Thru the various day to day scenarios, you have illustrated nicely the behavioural change due to small amount of power. At a macro level, I think it is the same very phenomenon and the impact is magnified because of the larger power and sphere of influence..

I am reminded of the quote I had read (dont readily recollect who said it)- it goes something like this...

"Power Corrupts - and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely"...

Keep writing and sharing such good perspectives.

Abolee Valsangkar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abolee Valsangkar said...

Excellent piece. I especially liked the idea of 'power motivation'.

I also liked your point about people believing they have made a pure rational decision (in reply to Pallavi's comment), without realising the emotions invovled in the process.


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks a lot Babya.I am glad, you liked it.Now that you are a corporate citizn, I'm sure you find a lot of evidence of what I've attempted to bring out.Lol

Amit Malik said...


Liked the way you connected diverse examples and linked them.


Roopali Sundar said...

Hi Abhay,

Appreciate your thoughts ! Just a couple of days back I faced this unique situation. As I was trying to squeeze my way driving behind a large vehicle, I was stopped by the cop. He was incidentally managing the traffic due to signal failure. Like any other day, the first thought that crossed my mind was it's time for him to make some easy money I guess. However the conversation turned unique. He forced my car back to the pathway and said "I am asking you to go back for your own safety. Take a look towards your left
and the traffic has been let go by the other cop.". And true to my surprise, this went unnoticed. His thoughts and gesture made a difference- and the difference was my
perspective towards some initial learnings. The difference broke some barriers that very strongly built in mind for ages.

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks a lot Roopali. You bring in a real life example of something that I referred to in the blog.Please keep sharing your perspectives.

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks a lot ,Amit. Pls keep responding.Cheers

Anonymous said...

Hi Abhay,

Many thanks for sharing interesting work.


H Moghe

Hemant Moghe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.