Power Tactics Essay

Application 4.9 Nobody Wins

Craig is a supervisor in a community agency, and Marilyn is a staff member who works part time. Craig coerces Marilyn into taking on a community volunteer program—a job she neither wants nor has time to develop at a competent level. Marilyn resists working on the program, while deadlines come closer. Craig, noticing her avoidance, humiliates her in a public meeting by pointing out what has not been done, and asking her to agree to work hard on the program. Marilyn accedes (on the surface) but talks to her friends about how poorly she is treated. After 2 months of Craig’s disapproval of her progress and of her seeking social support and a new job elsewhere, she brings Craig her resignation.

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Internally, Marilyn might have some of these thoughts and feelings:

Craig should not have put me in the position to work with all these community volunteers. I am still learning my other work, and this is a job for a more experienced person. He manipulated me by telling me how important the work is. I agree, but I’m not the person to do it. I’m 20 years younger than most of the volunteers and I don’t have the history with the agency to know their jobs. I feel foolish; I’m trying to do something I don’t know how to do. When I ask Craig or the others for help, they brush me off. I think they want the volunteers, but don’t want to put in the time to train them. And they don’t want to train me. I don’t want to resign, but I can’t take this. Being asked at the staff meeting if I would “work harder” was insulting. If I can find another job, I’m going.

Internally, Craig may have had some of these thoughts and feelings:

Marilyn is a smart young staff member. I wish we could hire her full time. She’s perfect for the volunteer program because she is enthusiastic and inspiring. I’m disappointed at how many people she’s signed up, though. I thought she would really jump on this chance. If she succeeds in setting up 20 or 30 well-trained volunteers, I’m sure I can get the funding for a full-time job for her. But lately she’s seemed to me to be whining and not really trying. She’s asking for help that none of us has time to give. Doesn’t she know how important this task is? When I brought it up at the staff meeting, I was trying to encourage her, but I could tell she was upset. I guess I’d better talk to her. I don’t want to lose her.

Answer the following questions about Craig and Marilyn:

1. How might Marilyn have changed her low-power stance into a constructive one?

2. How might Craig have changed his “power-over” stance into a constructive one?

3. What might a beginning dialogue that is constructive sound like?

Craig did not accomplish his original goal of starting the community program, and Marilyn will leave her job. They achieved a power balance in an unproductive manner, much like in a game of leapfrog. When one person is behind, he or she then jumps into the lead, and the other person, sensing that he or she is “losing,” does the same. Pretty soon the relationship is suffering, and neither person has achieved any of the original goals. In cases of power disparity, agreements remain shaky. The ever-accelerating unproductive moves result from attempts to balance power. The alternative is to balance the power through productive avenues and recognize that with extreme power asymmetry, effective long-term management is not likely.

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