How Powerful People Think

New research shows that power is a mindset that can be cultivated

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Successful leaders often seem to have sharper minds than the rest of us — isn’t that how they got to the top in the first place? While we often assume that people become powerful because of their superior thinking skills, research shows that the relationship flows in the other direction as well: Power changes the way a person thinks, making them better at focusing on relevant information, integrating disparate pieces of knowledge, and identifying hidden patterns than people who are powerless. People who feel powerful also show improved “executive functioning”: They are better able to concentrate, plan, inhibit unhelpful impulses and flexibly adapt to change.

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A sense of power “has dramatic effects on thought and behavior,” writes Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, in a 2011 article in the journal Psychological Science. Indeed, “being in a high-power role transforms people psychologically.” The good news is that we don’t have to wait until we’re the boss to reap the mental rewards of powerfulness. Here, three ways to take advantage of the power of power:

1. Find a role in which you feel powerful. All of us can identify some area of life in which we’re able to take the lead — and once we do so, changes in how we think and act will follow. “The social roles people inhabit can change their most basic cognitive processes,” notes Pamela Smith, a social psychologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands. Studies show that when people are assigned to the manager role (in a real organization or in one simulated in the lab), they immediately become more likely to act decisively, to take risks, to persist on tasks they take up, and to think more abstractly and optimistically.

This has implications for how we treat others — students, employees, offspring — as well, suggesting that we should reverse the usual practice of waiting until individuals prove themselves worthy of holding power. Empowering people now, by giving them more control and autonomy, will lead them to think and act in ways befitting the role.

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2. Remember a time when you felt powerful. Merely recalling a powerful moment from your own past makes you more likely to act powerfully in the present — a difference that is readily apparent to others. In a forthcoming study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers asked participants to recall a time they had or lacked power, then had them write a job application letter or participate in a simulated interview for admission to business school. Independent judges found the people who’d been primed to feel powerful more impressive and persuasive — a finding, the authors note, with “important implications for understanding the psychology of job interviews.”

3. Assume a powerful posture. In his 2011 study, Adam Galinsky and his colleagues asked seated participants to assume either an “expansive” position (one arm on the armrest of their own chair, the other arm on the back of a nearby chair; legs crossed so that the ankle of one leg rested on the thigh of the other leg and stretched beyond the edge of the chair) or a “constricted” position (hands under their thighs, shoulders dropped, legs together). People in the expansive position were more likely to make a bold move in a simulated game of blackjack, and were better at identifying hidden pictures within a series of fragmented images (a measure of abstract thinking).

Galinsky highlights the fascinating finding, made in another study, that assuming a powerful posture reduces cortisol (a stress hormone) and elevates testosterone (a hormone associated with self-assertion). “To think and act like a powerful person,” Galinsky concludes, “people do not need to possess role power or recall being in a powerful role” — they just need to arrange their bodies in a powerful way.

This article is from the Brilliant Report, a weekly newsletter written by Annie Murphy Paul. 

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14 comments
Raemians
Raemians

Waw, That's a wonderful post! I'm totaly agree with you Annie. Sometimes, when we feel us powerless, it's a good tip to feel some powerful moments we got in the pass.  I think that it's good for all those who need powerful supposes to have heroes as I mention in my last blog post. They have to read story about people who make a difference in whatever the situation. We have to be inspired about their own experience.    

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

Being powerful at a moderate measure is, no doubt, a great blessing but for being more than much powerful than what one deserves, he or she has to be very cautious in his or her drive because driving a warplane isn't so safe as it is for a bicycle.

  - A.R.Shams's Reflection

strouthesm
strouthesm

Wow. All I have to do now is cross my legs?

punkakes13
punkakes13

i think its more about experiencing the role, than interpretating wha you know its not there

punkakes13
punkakes13

explendorous, jokessssssssssssssssssssssssssssss hHAA

this is not that much clear

arrenge your body in what ways?

looking up? hehe

so she says if you arrenge your body it will affect your modd.. or something..



Nathaniel_M_Campbell
Nathaniel_M_Campbell

It is a sad and shameful thing that we seek to glorify and exalt the experience of power, when throughout history, it has been the powerful who have succumbed to its abuse and, lording it over those whom they control, have oppressed the weak. Power is the hallucinogenic drug after which this fallen world thirsts and lusts with destructive abandon.

When Jesus stood upon the Mount of Olives, he did not say, "Blessed are the powerful!" No, he said this: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Gospel of Matthew 5:3-5)

ILWorkInjury
ILWorkInjury

@JuriSense It takes experience and expertise in the field to successfully project the person you want to be.

HeyThere
HeyThere

Just because some peope have power doesn't necessarily mean they develop the traits discribed. Certainly there are enough examples in history of those with power who oppress the people with none or little power. Dictators come to mind on how they lacked the charateristics that they would acquire as a result of obtaining power. More often than not those in power tend to accumulate and protect their wealth at the expense of those who are not a part of the elite in charge. Examples abound in United States of jobs being sent overseas, banks and Wall St. given bailouts while some members of Congress use theeir power to promote cuts in benefits for the 70% of workers who earn $20,000.00 or less a year by union busting and elimination and replacement of federal employees with non-unionized  low paid workers. An example is the current push to privatize the Post Office, the second largest employer in the US to the detriment of current and future employees and service to the public https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDJNamOGSes.

Here is another take on the characteristics those in power are likely to have

.http://www.quora.com/Why-do-people-abuse-power-when-they-get-it

It's one thing for an individual to gain confidence in doing what he is good at and it is quite another to imply that all those in power develop the traits described in the article. 

Janette
Janette

Thanks for the chuckles; but seriously, please shut up. No, really.

RobertoBrito
RobertoBrito

There is nothing wrong with power, many people have used to to great benefit of their own, their families and many other. You need to be a close minded individual to immediately assume that someone with power will abuse it immediately. There are many people who took power and used to help the oppressed. Gandhi, MLK, Jesus, they all used their influence and charisma (the most powerful mind of power there is) to help many.