There are many ways that someone can feel powerful in the world. Some of them involve social structure. For example, as a college professor, I have relatively more power than the students in my classes, but less power than the deans and administrators at my university. There are also personality factors that influence the feeling that you have power. People who have a high sense of self-efficacy or agency generally feel as though they have power in situations.
There are also actions you can take to make yourself feel more powerful.
An interesting set of studies published in the May 2018 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Michael Schaerer, Leigh Tost, Li Huang, Francesca Gino, and Rick Larrick suggests that giving advice to others can increase the feeling that you have power.
In particular, the researchers suggest that when you advise someone else, it gives you the sense that someone may follow your advice. That belief that you are influencing someone else’s behavior then leads you to feel more powerful.
In one study, participants were encouraged either to think about or describe a situation in which they gave advice, either solicited or unsolicited. In a control condition, participants just thought about and wrote about a conversation they had with another person. They filled out scales measuring how much power they felt they had as they recalled the item and the degree of influence they thought they had on the advice-taker.
Participants who wrote about giving advice felt more powerful than those who wrote about a conversation they had. Statistical analyses demonstrated that this difference in the feeling of power was strongly related to the amount of influence they thought they had on the other person. A field study using employees of a university library showed the same results.
Two other studies explored whether people who are interested in increasing their power tend to give advice.
For example, in one study, participants were students in an MBA program who were going to engage in a negotiation exercise as part of a class. A week before the negotiation exercise, participants filled out a scale measuring their interest in seeking power. After the negotiation exercise, negotiation partners described how much advice they received from their counterparts. The more that people were interested in seeking power, the more they tended to give advice.
In the last study, participants also took a scale measuring their desire to seek power. Then, they were given the chance to give advice to a person online. (In fact, every participant responded to the same fictitious scenario.) Before and after giving advice, participants rated their feeling of power. Finally, participants were given feedback. Some participants got a message from the advice recipient that their advice was going to be taken, while others got a message that the receiver had decided not to read their advice. After this feedback, participants once again rated their sense of power.
Overall, giving advice increased people’s sense of power. This was particularly true for people who are interested in seeking power. Finally, when participants found out that their advice was not going to be taken, their sense of power diminished.
These studies suggest that when you feel like you have the chance to influence another person’s behavior, that increases your own sense of power. Even people who don’t routinely seek power feel this effect of advice-giving, but if you are the kind of person who wants more power, you are likely to look for chances to give advice to others.
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Schaerer, M., Tost, L.P., Huang, L., Gino, F., & Larrick, R. (2018). Advice giving: A subtle pathway to power. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44 (5), 746-761.