The Cost of Power Intimidation in Change

Crucial Accountability teaches two core concepts. Safety and power. Safety creates an environment where it is possible to talk about almost anything with anyone. Power encourages us to speak up when it doubt. Power also causes us to avoid confrontation, if we believe the other person won’t care we shrink away from the conversation.

Intimidating change

I once watched an individual that had a concern with her senior manager. The manager was abusive and constantly referred to people as morons and imbeciles in public settings. When I talked to the staff member about whether or not she was going to confront the manager, she responded, “Absolutely, I am!”.

Nobody else had previously considered doing this. Why? Because of power. The boss was more powerful than they were.

I also know of a staff member who complained regularly about their CEO. They said when the CEO had concerns with them, he would belittle and insult the staff.

These were senior level staff members, far into their careers, yet when the CEO was disappointed with them, he would drag them into his office and berate them. Why? Because he believed that putting them down would intimidate change.

The cost of using power to intimidate change is that it violates relationships.

A friend of mine described a bad weekend he recently had. He and his wife both travelled a lot in their work. When they came home one Friday evening, he was hoping that they’d be able to spend some quality time together – cuddle on the couch and watch a movie. The problem was that she was standoffish and distant.

When he asked her if they could spend some time together, and she rebuffed him. He replied “Well, thank you very much, ice queen.”

I asked what his goal had been in saying that. He said that in the insanity of the moment, he hoped it would bring her around. When I asked him if it worked, he replied, “Not particularly well.”

No surprise there!

When we invoke power – when we try to coerce or intimidate to bring people around – we provoke resistance. We actually cause them to resist the very change we want. We also violate the relationship, and this causes our relationships to suffer.

If you ever think you lack the power to have a crucial confrontation, that very thought is the problem. We’ve found that those who are best at accountability almost never use their power to try to motivate change.
Learn to hold tough conversations and others accountable. Download the first chapter of Crucial Accountability.
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