In conflict and negotiation, it’s a common mistake to assume you have less power than the other person, particularly in workplace situations where the other person is your supervisor or someone in higher positional authority. In any conflict or negotiation situation you have more possible sources of power than may immediately be obvious.
For example, in the 1960s, psychologists French and Raven suggested this now-famous list of types of social power:
- Reward power: Power to influence through positive reinforcement.
- Coercive power: Power to influence through some type of punishment or threat of punishment.
- Referent power: Power to influence through personal attributes that are respected or appreciated by others.
- Legitimate power: Power to influence through positional authority in the structure of an organization (sometimes called positional power).
- Expert power: Power to influence as a result of a recognized expertise.
- Informational power: Power to influence through control of information.
- Affiliation power: Power to influence as a result of who you know (sometimes call connectional power).
I’ve bolded the power types that are often overlooked in conflict situations at work. Keep in mind, too, that power is not a static commodity, something you either have or don’t have. Power ebbs and flows over time, as circumstances, organizations and the people in them change.