How We Communicate Says Something About Our Power
To become more powerful, observe how influential people clearly communicate their desires, needs and wants, and get others to follow their unique vision and mission.
More importantly, observe how you communicate with yourself and others, because you may need to adjust your communication approach if you regularly feel ineffective and powerless.
What Is The Meaning Of Power?
The word power means a lot of things. The literal dictionary definition is “the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way.” If that is all it is, you should feel powerful most of the time except perhaps when learning a new skill. Yet many capable and experienced professionals talk about feeling powerless.
Most often, when people talk about feeling powerless, it’s because they believe they are under the yoke of an individual or an entity and thus are limited in options. Whether it’s a boss or a company you believe has power over you, remember that you said yes to the business relationship in which you were offered a salary in exchange for your talent, skill and experience.
If at any time you became unhappy with the situation, your self-respect and ability to communicate effectively helped you to either renegotiate your terms or gave you the impetus to leave and go elsewhere. This is personal power which at a fundamental level is the willingness to take responsibility for everything that happens to us.
For this article, we’re going to talk about personal power in the context of work and career.
We’ll look at how powerful people communicate and how we can model this behaviour to fuel our inner power source.
Powerful People Are Electric
The most interesting definition of power is electricity, probably because it’s one of the greatest inventions, spawning many modern innovations. And this makes it an excellent analogy for powerful people who seem to know how to tap into an endless source of creative energy that begets more sources of energy and vitality. You can tell just how electric powerful people are because they approach work and life as though it’s meaningful and joyous.
Powerful people communicate curiosity. They are open-minded and not set in their ways or think they’re always right. And when others speak, they listen with keen focus. Powerful people, whatever their role are also interested in elevating other people’s power. If they’re a leader, they communicate that they trust you to do what needs to be done without micromanaging you. And when things get tough, they roll up their sleeves and work alongside you. When you succeed, they extol your talents and achievements, rather than take credit for it themselves.
Powerful People Operate On A Higher Frequency
Powerful people rarely speak ill of others or care much about the opinion of others. They reflect on their mistakes and failures as lessons to help them get better at doing things. One of the reasons they communicate powerfully is they’ve learnt to not listen to that inner voice that tells them they have no talent, no one respects them or that they're washed up and irrelevant.
Most of us would like to communicate more powerfully, but this won’t happen if we’re always engaged in negative self-talk ("I'm not good enough") or if we regularly speak critically and harshly of others ("They're not good enough"). This negative behaviour keeps us at a lower frequency which diminishes our power and makes us weak and sick. On the other hand, positive self-talk ("I am enough") and communicating in a tolerant and respectful way, grows our power and makes us stronger and more resilient.
If positive self-talk does nothing for you, but you’d like to amp up your power frequency, try interrogative self-talk. For example, instead of repeating a positive statement like, “I will be more confident speaking at the next webinar event,” you can ask a question like, “What do I need to think, feel and do to be more confident at the event?” Another question might deal with a specific symptom, like, “How do I stop my voice from cracking?” When you ask questions, your brain can’t help but devise solutions for you, offering up things you can do to change a behaviour and thus help you change a powerless mindset. Read this article to find out how to apply a self-questioning process to flex your power. You might be pleasantly surprised how well it works to free you of any number of doubts, fears and insecurities.
Powerful People Communicate Self-Worth
Musician singer/songwriter, David Grohl says, “No one is you and that is your power.” Many people think they’re powerless at work because they’re the junior employee, or female or don’t have a title with the word, ‘manager’ in it. But real power, the ability to successfully navigate the world or influence others has nothing to do with your official title or job description. It’s the ability to combine your upbringing, education and life experiences into a unique package that lets you offer something special, something no one else can offer. If you proceed on that logic, you will assume you have personal power.
And if you assume you have power, the way you communicate with yourself and others is revealing in a number of ways. You tend to say things like, “I’ll ask for forgiveness and not permission”. When asked to participate in a challenging project, you tend to speak in bold affirmatives, “I can do that”, and when you’re pressed to do something that will drain your energy or go against your values, you’re good at pushing back by asking, “How am I supposed to do that?”
Powerful people know how to communicate what they want and what they don’t want without burning bridges or blowing up buildings.
A Reversal In Power
In recent years, I’ve observed how some individuals in positional authority seem to be unaware that the tables have turned on them and they’re no longer as powerful (authoritative) as they think they are. You know them by the way they communicate, like, “Can I give you some free advice?” “You have to listen to me,” or, “Let me tell you…”, or “This is how we’ve always done it,” and, “If you don’t like how we do things here, there’s the door”. And if they ever ask you questions, they answer for you or speak over you.
While most leaders intellectually get it that customers and staff have more power than ever, many are still not changing how they communicate. That is, talking less, listening more and asking lots of curious, open-ended questions like: “What do you think is the problem?” “Is this really the problem?” “What else could be the problem?” “How will we solve this?” “How else do you think we can solve this?” There is still too much rushing in to give (usually unhelpful) advice.
And this is why executives that are skilled communicators lead the most successful companies.
There is a reversal in power, in that your employees and customers have many more choices and options. But here’s the irony of letting go of authoritative control and handing it over to your capable employees, you end up becoming an ever-more powerful leader.
It’s important to remember also that communication covers more than speaking or writing. It includes body language, facial expressions, and is conveyed in the clothes we wear or in the way we stand, sit and walk. All of these continuously communicate something about our power.
So, what are you communicating about yourself right now and is this moving you to success or failure? How are you communicating with customers? Is it helping to engender mutual trust and respect, or is it creating tension and suspicion? If you’re a team leader, how do you communicate with your reports? Is your communication approach stifling creativity and problem solving or helping your team achieve great things?
Finally, how are you communicating with yourself? Do you listen to internal chatter that says you’re a failure, that you're not smart enough, not educated enough, not young enough, not old enough, not good looking enough? Or do you redirect it to something along the lines of “I am capable, resourceful and full of potential, as are the people I work with.”
To be powerful, use words that don’t limit you or others.