Posted: March 11th, 2023

week 5 -Discussion

Task 1:Share a summary of your Analysis Assignment as well as THREE takeaways from the readings/videos/self-assessment (200 word minimum). Complete your original post by Friday at Midnight. 

Video link:   

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Why Cultivating Power is the Secret to Success


 Deborah Gruenfeld: Power & Influence



 Giving Feedback in the Workplace: How to Give Feedback to Employees



 Managing Conflict – Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument



 Effective Confrontation | Simon Sinek




please find attached files “How to Give effec” and “Teaching Power”

Analysis assignment Summary-please see attached file-Dutch Test(No need to do task but just give summary)

Task 2:Then leave TWO replies on your classmates’ posts 


Hi All,

“Power”, always i tell my daughter “Freedom and Power comes with great responsibility“. Power is not a bad thing if used in an appropriate manner. While reading the article by Jeffrey Pfeffer, it sounded like it has been believed for long time that power isnt a good topic or good thing to have and yet everybody wants it. The unfrotunate times qwe live in, everybody want to have power only for wrong reasons. No wonder it hasd been belived by people for long time like it isnt the topic to teach students in business schools.

First takeaway is about the price of power, it is so true as live in reality how faous people with power do not have privacy. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s story is the perfect example if anyone have seen their documentary on netflix how media was all over them when they were in canada before they moved to America. When a person with power have responsibilities to perform whether he likes it or not so it costs him his autonomy, these people can not spend quality time with their famnilies which end in bad divorces most of the time as the author mentioned. With all the power and jealously people around them who are more enemies than friends. 

My second takeaway isfrom the article “You’ve been doing fantastic job. Just one thing…” and the video “Giving feedback in the workplace”, when i was working in the bank one time i had to give feedback review to an intern. that was my first time giving feedback to somebody other than my kids. so, i did look up and read some of the articles in giving positive or negative feedback. Looking back i remember reading similar points that feedback must be direct to the point and on time not a month later, it must be done privately not in front of coworkers especially if it is negative feedback to make the intern feel better and if it is positive not to makje theri coworkers feel bad opr left out, either way having a private conversation is advisable. I follow these guidelines with my family too.

Third takeaway is from the video “Power & Influence” by Deborah Gruenfeld, how one’s body language talks more about a person than his or her words. It was very interesting to know how important it is to know when to play high and when to play low to get the job done especially for a woman because generally people expect women to play low in any situation which sounds really sad how narrow minded communities we are living in. Balancing between playing high and playing low is what makes a person a good manager.

I also want to talk about Conflict, how to mange it as we saw in the video “Managing Conflict”. We learned in previous readings that having Conflicts in the teams is a good thing and actually it is required for a team to work efficiently according to Patrick  Lencioni (one of the levels of his pyramid). But this week we learnt about how conflict is handled by different people at workplace. The questions asked in the end of the video helped me figure out the way i handled some of the conflicts in my workplace and assess oif i did the right way or not. 

Thank you,

Dhatri Alla.

Post 2:

 This week’s reading discusses the power and its significance in the workplace, as well as how each copes with it. This has probably been my favorite topic to talk about so far. Over the years, my perception of power has changed. In my mind, power implies a person must be very courageous and have no fear whatsoever. But now after so many experiences and education, my thoughts have changed. I started to think of power as raising a child. A person must be mindful, responsible, and in control. Our first video by Jeffrey Pfeffer “Why Cultivating Power is the Secret to Success.” This video discusses power in the workplace.  Jeffery gave a great example of power and how we are surrounded by it all the time. My three takeaways were, the strategies we can use to increase the power in the workplace. The practical strategies to use to increase power in the workplace that I found helpful in the video are by doing small tasks and helping others out. This is also considered power. The second video was also discussing the importance of power, by Deborah Gruenfeld’s “Power and Influence.” To understand and have power we want to appear authoritative and be approachable to others. This means we should be open-minded, and caring, understand others, and have the ability to connect with individuals on a human level. 



Self-Assessment: Dutch Test for Conflict Handling

Purpose: This self-assessment is designed to help you identify your preferred conflict-management style.

Read each of the statements below and circle the response that you believe best reflects your position regarding

each statement. Then use the scoring key below to calculate your results for each conflict-management style.

When I have a conflict at work or school, I do the


Not at

all Seldom Sometimes Often


1. I give in to the wishes of the other party. 1 2 3 4 5
2. I try to realize a middle-of-the-road solution. 1 2 3 4 5
3. I push my own point of view. 1 2 3 4 5
4. I examine issues until I find a solution that really

satisfies me and the other party.
1 2 3 4 5

5. I avoid confrontation about our differences. 1 2 3 4 5
6. I concur with the other party. 1 2 3 4 5
7. I emphasize that we have to find a compromise

1 2 3 4 5

8. I search for gains. 1 2 3 4 5
9. I stand for my own and other’s goals and interests. 1 2 3 4 5
10. I avoid differences of opinion as much as possible. 1 2 3 4 5
11. I try to accommodate the other party. 1 2 3 4 5
12. I insist that we both give in a little. 1 2 3 4 5
13. I fight for a good outcome for myself. 1 2 3 4 5
14. I examine ideas from both sides to find a mutually

optimal solution.
1 2 3 4 5

15. I try to make differences seem less severe. 1 2 3 4 5
16. I adapt to the parties’ goals and interests. 1 2 3 4 5
17. I strive whenever possible toward a 50-50

1 2 3 4 5

18. I do everything to win. 1 2 3 4 5
19. I work out a solution that serves my own and the

other’s interests as well as possible.
1 2 3 4 5

20. I try to avoid a confrontation with the other. 1 2 3 4 5

Scoring Instructions:
To calculate your scores, write the number circled for each statement on the appropriate line in the scoring key

below (statement numbers are in parentheses), and add up each scale. Then read the interpretation provided on

the next page.

Interpreting Your Score:

The five conflict-handling dimensions are defined below, along with the range of scores for high, medium, and

low levels of each dimension.

Conflict-Handling Dimension and Definition Score Interpretation

Yielding: Yielding involves giving in completely to the other side’s

wishes, or at least cooperating with little or no attention to your own

interests. This style involves making unilateral concessions, unconditional

promises, and offering help with no expectation of reciprocal help.

High: 14 – 20

Medium: 9 – 13

Low: 4 – 8

Compromising: Compromising involves looking for a position in which

your losses are offset by equally valued gains. It involves matching the

other party’s concessions, making conditional promises or threats, and

actively searching for a middle ground between the interests of the two


High: 17 – 20

Medium: 11 – 16

Low: 4 – 10

Forcing: Forcing tries to win the conflict at the other’s expense. It

includes “hard” influence tactics, particularly assertiveness, to get one’s

own way.

High: 15 – 20

Medium: 9 – 14

Low: 4 – 8

Problem Solving: Problem solving tries to find a mutually beneficial

solution for both parties. Information sharing is an important feature of this

style because both parties need to identify common ground and potential

solutions that satisfy both (or all) of them.

High: 17 – 20

Medium: 11 – 16

Low: 4 – 10

Avoiding: Avoiding tries to smooth over or avoid conflict situations

altogether. It represents a low concern for both self and the other party. In

other words, avoiders try to suppress thinking about the conflict.

High: 13 – 20

Medium: 8 – 12

Low: 4 – 7

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ORGDYN-100830; No. of Pages 10

Teaching power in ways that influence
students’ career success:
some fundamental ideas

Jeffrey Pfeffer

Organizational Dynamics (2019) xxx, xxx—xxx

Available online at


jo u rn al h om ep ag e: ww w.els evier .c o m/lo c ate /o rg d yn

Forty-five years ago, power as a topic was mostly absent
from management textbooks and courses, including execu-
tive education teaching, in the fields of business and public
administration. This was the case notwithstanding the fact
that power dynamics are invariably present in most public
and private sector workplaces. Research demonstrates that
power affects resource allocations among departments and
other subunits as well as decisions on strategic direction in
organizations of all types. Research also shows that power
affects people’s career trajectories, including their salaries
and the hierarchical levels they attain.

Former Center for Creative Leadership staffer William
Gentry has said that the inability to successfully manage
power relationships can cause career derailments. Extensive
research by Gerald Ferris and his colleagues as well as other
scholars demonstrate that political skills can be reliably
measured, and that political skills and accurate perceptions
of power distributions and social networks are positively
related to career success, the acquisition of power, and
some aspects of job performance.

In short, power matters. Furthermore, research by Ronald
Burt demonstrates that when people learn social networking
concepts in an executive education program, those execu-
tives’ careers accelerate, a finding that demonstrates that
power concepts can be taught. If power is measurable,
substantively important, and teachable, the first and most
obvious, but nonetheless important, implication is that
material on organizational power should be much, much
more widely covered in both core, elective, and executive
classes taken by people aspiring to leadership positions.

Long ago, analyses of power began, and pretty much
ended, with French and Raven’s descriptions of five sources
or types of power (reward, coercive, legitimate, expert, and
referent, to which Raven later added information). In

Please cite this article in press as: J. Pfeffer, Teaching power in ways


an Dyn (2021),
0090-2616/© 2021 Published by Elsevier Inc.

succeeding decades, research substantially expanded to
consider, among other important topics, the disinhibiting
effects of power on power holders, various strategies and
tactics for exercising power, and a more sophisticated under-
standing of numerous sources of power. Although there are
now elective courses on power in more schools than there
once were, and power as a topic is more widely found in both
textbooks and in a burgeoning research literature, power
remains much less widely taught, researched, and written
and talked about than other, conceptually related subjects
such as leadership. As former U.S. cabinet secretary John
Gardner once wrote, power is part of leadership and inex-
tricably entwined with it. Nonetheless, Rosabeth Kanter’s
40-year old comment that power is “America’s last dirty
word” remains unfortunately still too much the case.

When people learn how to obtain and use power, and
when individuals overcome their reluctance or inhibitions in
doing so, they can substantially accelerate their career
progress and help ensure they will not have to leave a job

In this article, I describe what I and others have learned
about how to teach power to students and executives in a
way that is at once true to the research literature on power,
relevant to people’s careers, and leads, in many instances,
to real change in behavior that helps people achieve greater
career success and effective influence.


The subject matter of power makes many people uncomfor-
table. It is useful to acknowledge that fact at the outset and
to explore why that is the case, as a way of helping people
surmount their initial resistance to the topic.

that influence students’ career success: some fundamental ideas,

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ORGDYN-100830; No. of Pages 10

2 J. Pfeffer

Just world thinking

One cause of discomfort is people’s desire to believe that the
world is just and fair. Social psychologist’s Melvin Lerner’s
just world theory argues that people are motivated to
believe that the world is just and fair, in part because a
belief in a just world serves a number of psychological
functions. Just world thinking provides a sense of control
and the potential for possible personal efficacy. If the world
operates according to just rules, people can learn those rules
and be comfortable acting according to them. Because the
world is just and fair, behaving according to social norms and
ethical guidelines will enable people to achieve just, and
more importantly, predictable outcomes.

System justification motivation

System justification theory argues that people have a pal-
liative need to justify the status quo and existing social
hierarchies, even when such hierarchical arrangements
legitimate those same individuals’ and groups’ inferior
and disadvantaged positions. In that sense, system justifica-
tion theory provides an explanation as to why groups parti-
cipate in their own disempowerment. One argument is that
seeing the world as unjust, without corresponding power to
change it, will leave people chronically unhappy, and they
are motivated to come up with world views that provide
contentment not distress. Moreover, justifying social reali-
ties also excuses the requirement for individuals to engage in
risky and effortful actions to change existing arrangements.

Individual and organizational interests

Some people find the following confusing: in most if not all
classes for executives or younger students, the emphasis in
the material is on how to make the organization or other
entity, such as a work group, more effective and successful.
Most of the material on power, and many classes on power,
are focused on making the individual more successful in
attaining power and other markers of career success such as
salary and hierarchical position. As much research, for
instance on executive compensation, shows, the two are
far from perfectly correlated. It is possible to be part of a
successful team or company and suffer career setbacks and
even be fired, or to be part of a failing enterprise and to do
quite well. Reorienting people to think about their own
career poses yet another challenge that can make them
uncomfortable with the material.

There are at least two justifications for this re-orientation
in focus. First, many human resource departments in the U.
S. (and elsewhere) have for the past several decades been
telling employees that they, the employees, are responsible
for their own careers. Fewer companies offer the prospect of
long-term employment, many have people sign statements
acknowledging that they are employed “at-will,” companies
increasingly use contract and other outsourced labor, and
companies increasingly eschew responsibility for things ran-
ging from retirement to health care.

Second, as already noted, the correspondence between
individual and organizational success is not high. Consider a
classic case–what happens to founders. As USC professor

Please cite this article in press as: J. Pfeffer, Teaching power in ways

Organ Dyn (2021),

Noam Wasserman described in The Founder’s Dilemma, more
than 50 percent of founders are replaced as CEO by the time
the startup raises its third round of funding, with 73 percent
of the founder-CEO replacements occurring when the foun-
der was fired. Moreover, founder-CEOs who succeed in build-
ing a fast-growing, successful company are actually more
likely to be replaced. That is because fast growth frequently
requires the raising of more outside capital, and those
sources of capital are more likely to replace founders. It
is also because, as the spouse of a founder told me, no one
fights over garbage. The more successful the company the
more likely it is that there will be others who will engage in a
power struggle for control.

Acknowledgement of the psychological desire to believe
that the world is just, systems are fair, and one important
goal of management education is to make organizations
more effective, coupled with numerous everyday observa-
tions of the many forms and manifestations of injustice,
unfairness, and the ways in which individual interests are
sacrificed by organizations, permits people to acknowledge
many aspects of social reality. People can at least intellec-
tually come to appreciate the need to understand and
possibly deal with the world as it is, as a first step to changing
social and organizational life.

The leadership literature

Yet another cause of some people’s discomfort with power is
a vast and ever expanding leadership literature and the many
classes that teach leadership and related topics that convey
more about how we might want leaders to be and behave–
—aspirations for leadership–—than the realities of what we
know about how leadership operates in the real world.
Although most science, and even much social science is,
or tries to be, objective, in the study of leadership often
there is not even any pretense of a completely unbiased
search for the truth. Numerous scholars of social influence
explicitly set out to demonstrate that “good” behavior is
more effective than “abusive” actions. For instance, social
psychologist Dacher Keltner calls his research center the
Greater Good Institute. One professor who studies power
opened a research talk on power and status with the explicit
acknowledgement that they were trying to demonstrate that
nasty, hostile behavior was counterproductive.

These are just two of numerous examples that illustrate
precisely why so much of the leadership literature is and
should be suspect. We know from many scientific fields
ranging from medical and physical science to the social
sciences that people will find what they are looking for, if
for no other reason than they will run studies or do analyses
until they eventually confirm their beliefs. No wonder so
much of leadership teaching comports neither to observed
reality nor to relevant social science findings.

As I noted in Leadership BS, there are numerous contra-
dictions between what is commonly taught in leadership
classes and books and what we know from extensive social
science research. For instance, although leader modesty is
valued and praised in much leadership teaching, an exten-
sive, even vast, research literature demonstrates that nar-
cissism and unwarranted self-confidence predict being
hired, obtaining promotions, and other indicators of career

that influence students’ career success: some fundamental ideas,

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ORGDYN-100830; No. of Pages 10

Teaching power in ways that influence students’ career success 3

success and leadership emergence, including, in some
instance, aspects of job performance.

For the most part, the leadership literature values authen-
ticity. Herminia Ibarra, in both written work and a lecture
available on YouTube, and Adam Grant in his New York Times
essay, “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice,”
both make similar points about the problems with the “be
authentic” advice. Being true to your authentic self excuses
people from having to develop and grow. As Grant related,
before he became a skilled presenter, being true to himself
would have meant not speaking in public very much if at all.
Second, leaders often need to be true not to how they are or
are feeling, but to what the people around them need from
them–—confidence, energy, focus–—regardless of how they may
want to behave in the moment.

As yet another example, although almost no leadership
class would teach people to engage in strategic misrepre-
sentation, a large literature on lying suggests that lying is
reasonably common in everyday life and seldom sanctioned.
Important, revered historical figures such as Abraham Lin-
coln lied, for instance, about where the Southern peace
delegation was. Steve Jobs was famous for his “reality
distortion field,” the idea that if Jobs said something often
enough and with enough conviction and skill, what was not
true at the moment might become true–—the self-fulfilling
prophecy in action.

Thus, material on the realities of power confronts the
dilemma that principles of power, to the extent they are
evidence-based, are at least to some extent in conflict with
what people have learned in other contexts and from other
sources as well as different from what they may want to
believe. As the CTO of the Wall Street Journal told me to
explain why he had a hard copy, audiobook, and e-book
version of Power, the material in that book was asking him
to do things that did not come naturally, because of how he
was raised and his prior education.

The stages of learning about power

Because of the discomfort arising from the desire to believe
in a just world and the differences between an evidence-
based understanding of power and what people have learned
in other classes and in other settings, people will go through
stages as they learn about and become more comfortable
with power. On the first day of my elective course on power, I
describe these stages.

First, confronted with material that makes them uncom-
fortable, individuals often experience denial, something
that afflicts at least some of my social science colleagues
as well. Denial manifests as trying to find instances where
power principles don’t hold and the leadership literature
seems to be true. For instance, people will argue that
principles of power don’t apply in particular settings such
as small, entrepreneurial organizations or in high technol-
ogy, other cultures such as in Europe or Asia, for millennials
of a different generation and values, and so forth. I confront
those claims with both evidence and logic that suggests that
power and its manifestations are largely unchanged and
unchanging across time and across contexts.

Denial is typically followed by anger, as people do not
always appreciate having their fundamental beliefs

Please cite this article in press as: J. Pfeffer, Teaching power in ways

Organ Dyn (2021),

challenged. My view is that education is, or certainly should
be, mostly a process of causing people to question what they
thought they knew. If education were just about reinforcing
what people already thought, it would add only trivial value
as people would leave the class not much different than
when they arrived.

Sadness sometimes follows anger, as people come to under-
stand the findings of a social science literature that does not
always paint the most uplifting or inspiring picture of organi-
zations or people andtheir power-relevant social interactions.
For instance, in The Power Broker, Robert Caro describes how
Robert Moses, over a forty-year career, built parks, play-
grounds, and swimming pools all over New York City, Lincoln
Center, bridges, roads, and public housing, and became influ-
ential in urban design. But Moses also made deals with poli-
ticians, on occasion giving them advance notice of where he
would be building and construction contracts to obtain their
support. Caro’s extensive historical material on Lyndon John-
son, detailed in his four-volume (with a fifth on the way) Path
to Power series, can cause people, who admired Johnson for
his passage of important civil rights and social welfare legisla-
tion including Head Start and Medicare, to become more
circumspect in their evaluations of his behavior. Johnson
may have stolen his first election to the Senate from Texas.
He gave dictation while sitting on the toilet, and was often
abusive to subordinates. He opposed the first attempt to pass
federal anti-lynching legislation. The reality is that many
people inboth publicand corporate lifehaveusedunattractive
means to acquire the power and resources that then permitted
them to do great things. Observers are sad to see the reality of
their heroes’ behavior.

If the class is successful, a sense of acceptance follows
the feeling of sadness. With acceptance, people master
important power principles and come to understand that
if they are to successfully navigate, let alone change, orga-
nizational life, it is useful, indeed, necessary, for them to
comprehend how the world works and why it works that way,
and the basic theoretical underpinnings that explain and
predict behavior. It is also useful for them to put their
learning into practice, a topic to which I return later in this
article. Most fundamentally, they need to come to terms
with organizational and social life as they are if individuals
are to effectively navigate and cope with the world.

Self-reflective exercises that ask students to think about
how the topics have played out in their own lives and what
they might have done differently based on what they have
learned, and how they intend to use the material in the
future, help anchor conceptual learning with lived experi-
ence. As former M.I.T. faculty member Donald Schon noted,
self-reflection promotes learning. U.C. Davis management
professor Andrew Hargadon once commented that many
people who think they have 20 years of experience don’t.
They just have one year of experience repeated 20 times.
Directed self-reflection seeks to ensure that people system-
atically reflect on and learn from their actions.


When people learn about the sources of power, they can work
to acquire these determinants of power for themselves.
Fundamentally, power comes from a) a set of individual

that influence students’ career success: some fundamental ideas,

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ORGDYN-100830; No. of Pages 10

4 J. Pfeffer

qualities or attributes that individuals can improve through
practice and coaching, and b) a set of structural conditions
that people can seek to develop. In teaching people
about the possible sources of power, we implicitly convey
the message that someone’s power resources and position
can be improved, thereby encouraging them to take action
to do so.

Personal attributes and their development

Because effort is required to achieve power, one quality
associated with power acquisition is ambition–—the desire to
acquire power. Ambition is not fixed. People are much more
likely to seek power–—or for that matter, try to accomplish
anything–—to the extent they feel personally efficacious and
believe that success from their actions is at least plausible.
Few individuals want to waste efforts on lost causes. One
important consequence from learning material on power and
seeing examples of similar others who have achieved power
is providing people with a sense of personal agency and a set
of role models that suggest that achieving power is possible
for them, too.

Related, but distinct from ambition and drive, is the quality
of self-confidence. Research consistently demonstrates that
even unwarranted self-confidence predicts interview success,
getting hired, obtaining promotions, and rising to powerful
positions. University of Virginia professor Peter Belmi’s
research focuses on the social psychological processes through
which social class reproduces advantageous outcomes. He has
found that higher social class people exhibit more self-con-
fidence, and because self-confidence affects obtaining power-
ful positions, higher social origin individuals have advantages
in the competition for power because of their inherently
greater levels of confidence.

No path to power is going to be free from obstacles,
opposition, including competitors, or setbacks. Therefore,
persistence and resilience are useful if not essential qualities
for achieving positions of influence. Persistence is related
ambition–—to the extent that someone wants to achieve a
position of influence, that individual will be more willing to
persist in efforts to achieve that objective. For instance,
Willie Brown, whose mother was a cleaning lady and who
grew up in a town in Texas where discrimination against
African-Americans was pervasive, became the two-time
mayor of San Francisco and speaker of the California Assem-
bly for some 14 years. Brown lost the first time he ran for the
assembly and he also lost his first race for speaker. He did not
let these setbacks derail his political ambitions. Reed Hast-
ings, the enormously successful CEO of Netflix, was unsuc-
cessful in his first CEO role and has said he would have fired
himself. Resilience is developed by seeing others overcome
setbacks and by learning to not take negative events per-

Emotions, including energy, are contagious. People who
are energetic inspire others around them. Former Caesar’s
CEO Gary Loveman has noted that one of the roles of senior
leadership is to exhibit energy, because others need that
energy–—intellectual energy and sheer kinetic energy. Energy
is partly a result of physical conditioning and training and
also a consequence of mental state. Ambition and resilience
both help to develop energy.

Please cite this article in press as: J. Pfeffer, Teaching power in ways

Organ Dyn (2021),

Because management is fundamentally about getting
things done through others, the capability to ascertain
where others are coming from, the source of their desires
and actions–—empathic understanding–—is a crucial power
skill. Most commentators on the late U.S. president Lyndon
Johnson note that he was not only a great reader of others,
he spent much of his time assiduously observing and talking
with others to ascertain their hopes, fears, and desires.
While practice in listening to and apprising others helps,
training people to look at how others are rewarded and the
sources of their information about the world can also be

Possibly the most important individual quality producing
power is that of not obsessively worrying about what others
think of you, a quality that also permits individuals to be able
and willing to engage in conflict. As Gary Loveman of Caesar’s
has famously quipped, “if you want to be liked, get a dog.”
Leaders are charged with getting things done and making
sometimes difficult strategic decisions, for instance, to down-
size and restructure to preserve the economic viability of the
enterprise. The people laid off almost certainly won’t like the
individual responsible for these decisions. Innovation, in pro-
ducts or processes, is often disruptive, and few people enjoy
having their routines disrupted. Consequently, leaders of
fundamental change often provoke criticism and resistance.
Moreover, rising to power invariably means winning competi-
tions for promotions, and those who lose out are not necessa-
rily going to be happy with the outcome. For all of these
reasons, the capacity to act without needing to be popular
is a crucial quality that we see in many powerful leaders in
domains ranging from politics to business.

How to develop these qualities? Have people rate them-
selves, and possibly have current or former work-relevant
peers rate them, on their possession of personal attributes
that are useful for acquiring influence. Once people see
where they could use improvement, individuals can develop
and execute, possibly with the help of an executive coach,
specific activities designed to build more strength in quali-
ties that are useful for acquiring power.

Structural sources of power

Power also derives from people’s positions. In its simplest
manifestation, formal hierarchical rank provides power.
People defer to rank and title. Deans, CEOs, presidents,
and others are powerful because of their title and the other
perquisites that often accompany such formal roles. Stanley
Milgram’s classic obedience to authority studies demon-
strate that people defer and accede to authority that comes
from formal roles, titles, or symbols such as uniforms that
signify formal rank.

In addition to formal roles and responsibilities, as
research going back literally decades demonstrates, peo-
ple’s informal positions in structural networks also provide
power. For instance, in some of the earliest studies, indivi-
duals who were central in communication networks obtained
power. Central network positions provide individuals with
more information than others because they communicate
with more people and they have more direct contact and
therefore the opportunity to build relationships through that
contact because of their structural centrality.

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Teaching power in ways that influence students’ career success 5

Research by University of Chicago sociologist Ronald Burt
demonstrated that people who occupy brokerage positions–
—those who fill structural holes by connecting groups,
departments, or individuals together who benefit from being
connected but otherwise would not be linked–—derive power,
and often career advantages and economic returns, from
their brokerage activities.

The literature on social networks provides one other
important insight: the value of weak ties. Stanford sociolo-
gist Mark Granovetter has noted that strong ties are one’s
friends and weak ties are one’s acquaintances. People to
whom one is strongly tied–—typically family, close friends,
and work colleagues–—are likely to share the same informa-
tion and social relationships. It is weak ties that are the most
able to provide nonredundant information and contacts–—the
novel connections and insights that provide greater unique
value. Because people typically find it easier and more
pleasant to associate with those with whom they have
stronger ties, because of the positive effects of similarity
and familiarity, cultivating a larger number of weak ties
requires more conscious and effortful networking activities.

People can analyze their networks by using the numerous,
widely available, and free online exercises and tools. They
can then use these analyses to diagnose where they should
expend more networking effort. Individuals can consider
how much time they spend networking and with whom they
spend the most time, as well as which individuals will be
most critical for their career success. Time should be spent
on the most career-critical ties. Most fundamentally, people
can be encouraged to think strategically about their social
relationships and how they can acquire more advantageous
structural positions, and then act on those insights.


Some of the most important outcomes from teaching people
about power are to increase their sense of personal agency
and also the frequency with which they take strategic
actions to achieve their goals and build their influence. As
in the case of building the personal attributes associated
with power, providing either peer or executive coaching can
be helpful in having people push themselves beyond their
comfort zones to do things they didn’t think would or could
work. Here I discuss a selection of evidence-based strategies
that people can do to build their power and that can be
included as part of their learning.

Creating resources

We know that resources are a source of power, in part
because resources can “buy” support and are a signal of
success. Moreover, because people are typically attracted to
power and want to associate with success, they like to bask
in the reflected glory of seemingly successful others, where
that success can be signaled by resource acquisition. What
people sometimes insufficiently appreciate is that people in
almost any position can, if they try, create resources that can
then provide them with power.

Jason Calacanis, an angel investor, early investor in Uber,
author of a book on angel investing with a very successful

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Organ Dyn (2021),

podcast and a series of events for start-ups, began his career
in New York wondering what it took to get on the cover of the
magazines he saw as he walked by newsstands. Then he
figured out that the people with the real power were those
who decided who went on the magazine covers. Calacanis
started two “magazines” covering Silicon Alley, the New York
high technology scene. Although initially he charged for the
publications, he soon began giving the magazine away and
charging for advertising. Importantly, with a publication,
Calacanis had an excuse to interview anyone in the high
technology world and, through that process, begin to build
relationships with powerful individuals. He decided to start a
list of the 100 most influential companies and people in
Silicon Alley. By creating this list and the ranking, and making
it somewhat controversial, he made himself and his publica-
tion a focus of conversation and attention. Those individuals
who ranked high on initial lists, people such as technology
investor and commentator Esther Dyson, were willing to
meet with Calacanis because he had performed the impor-
tant service of increasing their visibility even as he fed their

It does not cost much to create a ranked list, manufacture
an award, start a blog, or curate an event. Jonathan Levy
began hosting dinners in his home in New York in 2009, and
today his Influencer dinners are sought after invitations in
cities across the country. Creating venues, publications, and
lists puts one in the center of an ecosystem custom designed
to build visibility and power. Consider how John Bryne’s
BusinessWeek’s ranking of business schools built circulation
for the magazine and helped his career and influence in the
business school world. Bryne was smart enough to ensure
that the business school ranked first in the initial ranking was
Northwestern, at the time not the most obvious choice. By
doing something different and controversial, the magazine
helped ensure it would get more attention.

A former student interested in environmental sustain-
ability used his technical knowledge and Stanford brand to
start a journal. He was following in the steps of Henry
Kissinger who, early in his career at Harvard, started a
foreign policy journal, Confluence, that had limited circula-
tion but an important role in building Kissinger’s network and
stature in part by giving him the opportunity to reach out to
solicit articles from powerful people in the foreign policy

Acting and speaking with power

How people look–—their body language–—and how they sound
and the words they use, affects their power. A long research
tradition in political language going back to the late Uni-
versity of Illinois professor Murray Edelman demonstrates
that words matter. The controversy over whether or not
“power posing”–—taking an expansive, dominant pose–
—affects the individual’s testosterone or cortisol levels
misses the point. Power posing and body posture, including
facial expressions, may or may not affect the individual
taking the pose, but the research literature is unequivocal
that posture and body language affect how others perceive
and react to those focal individuals.

Acting skills, like most skills, are learned. People can
learn to strategically display emotions, even those they are

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6 J. Pfeffer

not currently feeling, just as professional actors learn to
take on roles. People can learn how to move, to stand, to
gesture, and to use their voice to convey more authority and
power in their interpersonal interactions. Individuals can
master how to generate applause, pause for emphasis, use
humor to disarm others, and employ lists to create an
impression of comprehensiveness. Such training can and
does make people more effective in situations ranging from
job interviews to taking command of task groups.

Getting others on your Side

As marketing guru and author Keith Ferrazzi noted, people
need the support and help of others to achieve almost
anything, and particularly objectives of consequence. In
political contests, although numbers of supporters may
not be definitive, having more rather than fewer allies is
almost always helpful. Here are a few theoretically-
grounded ideas that make attracting support more likely.

First, people like and offer to help those who are, or are
perceived to be, similar to themselves, including others who
mimic their behavior including voice and gestures, and
people who remind them of themselves even in unimportant
ways, such as sharing similar initials, birthdates, or having
similar fingerprint patterns. Because people generally think
well of themselves–—the self-enhancement motive–—they
naturally think positively about others who are similar to

The late Jack Valenti was for 38 years the head of the
Motion Picture Association of America. Prior to that, he was
hired as an aide to President Lyndon Johnson out of the
Kennedy motorcade in Dallas. Johnson was instrumental in
getting Valenti the MPAA job and supporting him in his career.
Valenti named one of his three children John Lyndon and
another Courtney Lynda. He married one of Johnson’s secre-
taries, Mary Margaret. Although this represents an extreme
degree of creating similarity, almost everyone will have
something in common with others, and reminding them of
what they share in common is a great way of attracting

Second, the norm of reciprocity suggests that people will
return favors, so doing favors for others is a way of building
alliances. Senator Lyndon Johnson was only one of two
Senators who stood in the rain at the funeral of the daughter
of Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia, a gesture that did not go

Less frequently considered is the technique of asking
others for favors or help. If someone does something for
another, the first person, having made an investment in
helping the second, will be psychologically committed to
that other’s success and will therefore be more likely to
become a supporter and continue to provide assistance.
Asking for help is also quite flattering, as it implies that
the favor-doer is important and has something to offer the
person making the request. Research suggests that people
are often hesitant to ask for help and underestimate others’
willingness to provide assistance, leading to the advice: “if
you need help, just ask.”

Once again, Lyndon Johnson provides an apt illustration.
In the Senate he would feign having forgotten his glasses as
an excuse to borrow a pair of “readers” from an opponent

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Organ Dyn (2021),

who had no way to gracefully decline the request. The
gambit opened up the possibility of conversation, and had
a potential enemy acting to do something for Johnson.

Creating resources, building relationships, and acting and
speaking with power are just some of the strategies and
tactics for building a power base. They have the advantages
of being reasonably readily implemented by people at any
stage in their careers, and that they are remarkably effec-
tive when employed.


Teaching power using examples such as Robert Moses, the
powerful New York City parks commissioner profiled in
Robert Caro’s book, The Power Broker, former president
Lyndon Johnson, or for that matter other historical, political
and business figures confronts the problem that the students
can not relate to these people. They seem too dissimilar and
from a different world and time. Therefore, beginning about
fifteen years ago and continuing to the present, I developed
case materials on people more similar to the students. I
intentionally focused on business school graduates who in
some cases were about five to ten years post-graduation at
the time of the case. I sought people who worked in indus-
tries that the students either came from or intended to go
into or both, settings such as high technology, finance, real
estate, and consulting. In short, the class sought to use as
examples people from environments and careers as well as
life stages where the students could readily see themselves.

Moreover, I began to bring to the class panels of former
students who had taken the class, so they could share their
experiences in using the materials from the course in their
own lives. Importantly, former students could relate how
they could use power and still look at themselves in the
mirror. In general, using teaching materials and class visitors
that are proximate in both age and life experience to those
being taught seems to make the lessons stickier and more

Some of the people I have used on my panels include Omid
Kordestani, the first business person hired at Google. Kor-
destani, a Stanford business school graduate from 1991, was
working at Netscape in the mid-1990s. In his opinion, his
career was not progressing as fast as he preferred. So, as he
told me at a breakfast, he decided to implement, in an
extreme version, a lesson from my power class. In the class,
we review evidence that suggests that technical job perfor-
mance is neither sufficient nor even necessary for career
success, in part because performance is itself often subjec-
tively defined and in part because relationships often matter
more for career outcomes.

Kordestani said that he essentially stopped doing many of
the technical aspects of his job, instead spending time
building relationships with senior executives at his employer
and also, in his sales and business development role, traver-
sing the Silicon Valley and other high technology ecosystems
creating contacts and discussing the emerging internet econ-
omy. As a result, when it came time for Google to recruit a
business person for its team, Kordestani surfaced early and
often in their search.

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As his recruiting meeting at Google was drawing to a close
late in the day, Kordestani offered to take the team out for
dinner–—on him–—to continue their discussions in a more
informal and relaxed atmosphere. As he told my class, that
dinner was probably the best investment he ever made.
Intelligent and charming, with experience in the high tech-
nology field, Kordestani became one of the earliest employ-
ees at Google and today has a net worth approaching $2

Other former students–—and I use the plural intentionally
and include women and men–—have gotten themselves onto
various Forbes “30 under 30” lists, have organized confer-
ences, started awards, created alumni networks in cities
where there were none, and done numerous other things to
build a personal brand and networks of colleagues who can
be and are helpful in their careers. By showing up and telling
their stories, these alumni not only bring ideas like “creating
resources” to life, they provide realistic, accessible, rela-
table role models for the current students to emulate–—and
to aspire to. Being invited back to the class has turned out to
be a surprisingly motivating “award” that encourages cur-
rent and recent graduates to use the materials from the


It is important for people, regardless of their career stage, to
understand that power comes with certain costs. By under-
standing the price of power, people can make informed
decisions about what trade-offs they are willing to make
in its pursuit. Evidence suggests that for the most part, these
costs, which different people will perceive and evaluate
differently, are unavoidable.

The first cost is visibility. The more powerful someone is,
the more important the position that individual occupies,
the more others will be interested in what she is doing–—and
therefore, seek out information about her activities and also
spend more time observing her. Simply put, personal privacy
disappears with power. The absence of privacy affects not
only the individual with power but also, in many instances,
their family members and friends, who may not have signed
up for the constant scrutiny nor benefit as much personally
from the power.

A second cost is autonomy. The late social scientist James
G. March once told me that a person could have autonomy, or
power, but not both. Power comes with a set of obligations
and responsibilities that delimit people’s ability to do what
they want, when they want to.

A third cost is time. Doing what is required to obtain
power and to hold on to it invariably requires time and
effort. Time spent on building and maintaining social rela-
tionships, one’s personal brand, and acquiring and deploying
resources is time that cannot be spent on other things,
including time with friends and family. It is not by accident
that many successful people have strained ties with intimate
others such as wives and children.

A fourth cost is rivalry and enmity. The higher the posi-
tion, the more the power, the more other people will want
the role. As a consultant to Swiss CEOs told me, once you are
CEO, most if not all of the people reporting to you will think
they are more qualified for the positon than you are. Some of

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Organ Dyn (2021),

these rivals will be willing to wait for you leave or retire,
others will not. Therefore, there are power struggles. Not
surprisingly, there are more power struggles at the top, when
the prize is much bigger, than farther down in the hierarchy
where victory brings fewer spoils.

Exposing people to the price of power I see as analogous
to the concept of a realistic job preview. People should see
what they are likely to confront before they confront it, so
they can be prepared.


In teaching about power, people should understand how and
why power is lost, so they can take appropriate actions to
maintain their positions if they are interested in doing so.

Research on the effects of power on power-holders sug-
gests that power leads to people becoming insensitive to
others, believing that the rules do not apply to them, and
becoming overly focused on attaining their own wants. In
short, power often leads to disinhibited behavior. Although
breaking the rules can create power–—because of the heur-
istic association between having power and the ability to
break the rules–—at some point violating social conventions,
and particularly not paying sufficient attention to what
others want and need, can cause those in power to create
enemies and alliances that bring them down.

Second, acquiring and maintaining power requires effort.
After some time, sometimes years, people get tired of
expending that effort and either voluntarily step down or
are pushed out of their position because they have lost the
energy to fight. Constant vigilance also requires effort, so
people are surprised when others come after them. When
people get tired of doing what is required to hold onto power,
they don’t.

Consider the case of George Zimmer, the founder and very
much the face and brand of the company, the Men’s Wear-
house. Running a retail business is difficult, and after almost
forty years, Zimmer wanted to step into an executive chair-
man role and have someone else deal with the day-to-day
challenges of selling tailored men’s clothing. In 2011, he
appointed Doug Ewert as CEO. In the summer of 2013,
Zimmer was forced out of the company in a very public spat.
There had been disagreements over strategy and over
Ewert’s moves to substantially increase CEO compensation.
There are many sides to this story, but as is often the case,
people newly elevated into powerful positions do not want
their predecessors looking over their shoulder or being in a
position to second-guess their decisions. Moreover, when
Zimmer stepped out of his CEO role, he signaled to the board
that he was beginning to phase out of the company and move
on to other interests. The board, comprised of people Zim-
mer had known in some cases for decades, nonetheless sided
with the successor, the person who was younger and more
likely to remain, fight for his job, and prevail in a power

Third, as one colleague put it, the half-life of enemies
tends to be longer than that for friends. Enemies remember
any slights and battles better and for a longer time than
friends remember favors and pleasant experiences. There-
fore, he argued, over time, one acquires enemies at a faster
rate than one acquires friends, unless someone is particu-

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Table 1 One sequence of material for teaching power

Sources of Resistance and Discomfort
Belief in a just world
System Justification
Emphasis on unit v. individual success
Leadership literature

Sources of Power
Individual attributes and qualities
Structural position

Strategies and Tactics for Building Influence
Acting and speaking with power
Attracting allies

Examples of Similar Others Who have Garnered Power
The Price of Power
How Power Is Lost
Putting Knowledge to Use: Doing Power Projects

8 J. Pfeffer

larly fortunate. So after a while, the growing number of
enemies and rivals is sufficient to cause a person to lose their


Toward the end of any experience entailing learning about
power, people need to put power to use. Research shows
that knowledge that is not applied soon abates, as anyone
who has studied a foreign language or mathematical con-
cepts that they do not use can attest. Using what people
have learned about power will often generate more accep-
tance of the material as individuals see that the ideas work
and they can implement them. And putting knowledge into
use also encourages and indeed makes possible reflective

There are many ways to put power to use, including in-
class exercises and peer coaching. However useful, talking
with peers or practicing power in artificial classroom situa-
tions remain too distant from really practicing power skills.
Therefore, I assign, both for my in-class and online students,
what I have come to call a “doing power” project. With the
help of experienced executive coaches who work with the
students to push them to expand their objectives and be
bolder, people are encouraged to set out a reasonably
specific, influence-oriented objective, strategize on a broad
range of things they might do to achieve it, and then act on
their plans. Sometimes, amazing things happen.

In the spring of 2012, Philipp Herrmann, a Stanford MBA
student from Germany, found himself with an approaching
deadline as the end of the quarter loomed. He intended to
return to Germany and, with a partner, start a venture
capital and consulting firm (the two are often combined in
that country). He knew that, as a graduating MBA, his odds of
success would be vastly increased if he could increase his
visibility and legitimacy in the internet economy space. It
happened that a leading German business magazine was
launching a search for the 100 most influential people in
the internet economy. Herrmann’s doing-power project was
to get on that list. That summer he sent me a screen shot
with his name on the list. Because he was one of the youngest
people in this very visible, high =-prestige set of names, he
was invited to go on a trade mission with Prime Minister
Angela Merkel, and many other opportunities eventuated.
Recently, Herrmann sold part of Etventure, the name of the
firm, to EY (formerly Ernst and Young) where he now serves
as an equity partner in charge of much of their innovation
and venturing activity. He tells this story to the class to
illustrate an example of how one doing-power project

David Bowman used his doing-power project to become
the CFO of Blue Bottle Coffee upon graduating with an MBA
from Stanford. Within a very few years, he was the COO of
the company prior to its acquisition by Nestle in
2017. Another individual, joining Amazon, used the doing-
power project to figure out the best place to enter the
company and how to accelerate their career. Out of 100 peo-
ple joining Amazon that year from top business schools, this
person received the highest ratings and enjoyed the fastest

Please cite this article in press as: J. Pfeffer, Teaching power in ways
that influence students’ career success: some fundamental ideas, Org

Having people use their knowledge, particularly when
successful, reinforces the course lessons. Having people
implement power concepts, at a minimum, ensures more
practice and more retention of the knowledge.

Furthermore, in order for people to navigate power
dynamics successfully, they need to build their skills in
diagnosing power distributions, the relevant players, and
what those others are doing. Therefore, in another major
assignment, I ask students to diagnose the power dynamics in
a company or setting where they have been or are thinking of
going. In some cases, this diagnosis has led people to see that
their sponsors are on shaky ground and that the course
members are not as valued as they thought. In several cases,
people have changed where they went to work based on their
understanding of the power dynamics and the implications
for their career prospects.

Table 1 summarizes the sequence of materials and con-
cepts I have described. Experience shows this is a reasonably
effective way to teach power to people in either full-time,
online, part-time, or executive programs.


In an increasingly competitive and possibly overcrowded
management education marketplace, one question is: does
this approach to teaching power and the subject matter
work? A definitive answer would require data that do not
presently exist, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that
power is a very successful course. IESE uses some of the
power material in a short, focused program called Getting
Things Done, and indeed, material on power would seem to
be foundational for teaching people about strategy imple-
mentation and organizational change. At Stanford, in the
business school’s online programs, the power elective has
consistently drawn by far the most enrollments and achieved
the highest course ratings. In the full-time MBA program, two
68-person sections are invariably full with, in recent years,
some 150 people on the waiting list. Peter Belmi’s similar
class at the Darden School at Virginia quickly became the
most popular elective at that school with course ratings

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Teaching power in ways that influence students’ career success 9

often averaging 5 on a 5-point scale. Gabrielle Adams taught
three sections of power at London Business School, Natha-
nael Fast has taught the material for years quite successfully
at USC, and the list goes on.

Somewhat ironically, the material on power seems parti-
cularly appreciated–—and relevant–—in programs where the
content feels more countercultural. One conjecture is that
students apprehend the reality of a world in which “old
power” figures and tactics seem on the ascendance, and
appreciate receiving both the social science concepts and
practice in using them relevant for such a world.

In this article, I have endeavored to describe what I and
others have learned about how to present material on power
in ways that enhance individual’s careers and their effec-
tiveness in getting things done, in the context of an envir-
onment not always hospitable to the message. The End of
Power was on Mark Zuckerberg’s suggested reading list, and
New Power argues that the internet and social media have

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Organ Dyn (2021),

fundamentally changed power dynamics. Meanwhile,
authoritarian governments are on the rise in countries ran-
ging from Brazil to Hungary, Facebook, typical of Silicon
Valley companies, has shareholder voting rights that ensure
Zuckerberg will retain control almost regardless of his actual
shareholdings, and it turns out that social media are won-
derful tools for maintaining power, not redistributing it. The
more things change, the more they stay the same.

Executives frequently say they wished they had learned
material on power earlier in their careers, but it is never too
late to master the understanding of power and political
skills. Executives and younger students appreciate the rea-
lism of material that explains what is going on in business and
political life even at the expense of uplift and feel good
stories. It seems that, to quote the rock group, The Who,
people do intuitively understand that the new boss is pretty
much the same as the old boss. And most people value the
ability to not get fooled again.

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10 J. Pfeffer


Power: Why Some People Have It–—and Others Don’t provides
a review of much of the social science literature on power,
examples of power in use by ordinary people, and is the text
for the elective class I teach at Stanford and others teach
elsewhere. Leadership BS is a prequel to power. That book
illustrates the many problems with much of the conventional
wisdom promulgated by the large, and mostly ineffective,
leadership training and development industry, including
documenting the failure of leadership teaching over the
decades to change leadership behavior or effectiveness.

Mark Granovetter’s Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and
Careers demonstrates the importance of weak ties. Ronald S.
Burt’s Brokerage and Closure: An Introduction to Social Capi-
tal illustrates the effects of holding brokerage roles on careers
and the complex trade-offs between structures that facilitate
brokerage and structures that help build trust.

Political Skill at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness by
Gerald Ferris and colleagues includes a political skills inven-

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Organ Dyn (2021),

tory that is useful in self-diagnosis, as well as research
showing the importance of political skills for career success
and job performance. The book documents the development
of valid and reliable measures of political skill.

The research literature includes numerous treatments on
political language and its importance in building influence.
One of the best and most concise treatments can be found in
Our Masters’ Voices: The Language and Body-Language of
Politics by Max Atkinson.

Google Scholar ( is useful for
accessing specific topics such as the importance of even inci-
dental similarities in inducing cooperation, whether or not
agreeableness is related to career success, the social science
research on lying including its frequency and consequences, the
effects of narcissism and overconfidence on getting hired and
promoted, and numerous other power-relevant topics.

Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business,
Stanford University where he has taught since 1979. He is the author or co-author of 15 books. Dr. Pfeffer received
his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Carnegie-Mellon University and his Ph.D. from Stanford (Graduate School of
Business, 655 Knight Way, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-7298. email:

that influence students’ career success: some fundamental ideas,

  • Teaching power in ways that influence students career success: some fundamental ideas
  • Begin by acknowledging resistance to the topic & its causes

    Just world thinking

    System justification motivation

    Individual and organizational interests

    The leadership literature

    The stages of learning about power

    Sources of power

    Personal attributes and their development

    Structural sources of power

    Strategies and tactics for building influence

    Creating resources

    Acting and speaking with power

    Getting others on your Side

    Examples of the use of power in careers

    The price of power

    How power is lost

    Putting the knowledge of power to use

    Lessons learned

    Bibliographic essay

You’ve Been Doing a Fantastic Job.
Just One Thing …
April 5, 2013

Mary Beth Taylor teaches fourth graders cursive writing in Wilmington, N.C. New research shows people learning a

new task prefer positive feedback.Mike Spencer/Wilmington Star-News, via Associated Press

MOST of us think we know how to give feedback. Positive comments are
better — and more useful — than negative ones. And if you do have to point
out something wrong, start with a compliment, move on to the problem, then
end on a high note.

It turns out that it’s not that simple. Those who have studied the issue have
found that negative feedback isn’t always bad and positive feedback isn’t
always good. Too often, they say, we forget the purpose of feedback — it’s
not to make people feel better, it’s to help them do better.

A recent research paper, “Tell Me What I did Wrong: Experts Seek and
Respond to Negative Feedback,” in The Journal of Consumer Research, says
that when people are experts on a subject, or consider themselves experts,

they’re more eager to hear negative feedback, while those novices are more
likely to seek positive responses.

One experiment surveyed students in beginning-level French classes and
advanced-level French literature classes. Participants completed a
questionnaire about choosing an instructor. They were asked if they would
prefer an instructor who emphasized what students were doing well in class
and talked about their strengths, such as when they pronounced new words
well, or an instructor who focused mostly on what mistakes they made and
how to fix those mistakes.

Those who had just started learning the language wanted the positive
feedback, while those who had been taking the French classes longer were
more interested in hearing about what they did wrong and how to correct it.

Why is that? One reason is that as people gain expertise, feedback serves a
different purpose. When people are just beginning a venture, they may not
have much confidence, and they need encouragement. But experts’
commitment “is more secure than novices and their focus is on their
progress,” the paper’s authors said. Even labeling feedback as either
negative or positive isn’t helpful, said Tim Harford, author of “Adapt: Why
Success Always Starts with Failure.” He noted that his karate teacher told
him specific things to do, like bending his toes backward or rotating his hips.
“It’s not useful to say, ‘That’s really good or that’s really bad,’ ” Mr. Harford
said. “We need to separate the emotional side from the technical points.”

That, of course, is much easier said than done, which is why most of us have
such trouble giving or getting critiques.

We don’t want to be the bad guy. But Laura Ching, now chief design officer
for Shutterfly Inc., found that she wasn’t helping anyone when she tried to
be, as she said, a people pleaser.

Early in her career, when she worked at Walmart, she had to tell an employee

that she wasn’t doing a good job. But instead of spending 90 percent of the
time telling her what she needed to do better and 10 percent encouraging
her, “I probably did 50-50,” Ms. Ching said. “And she heard only the positive.
So when the annual review time came, and she got, ‘does not meet
expectations,’ there was such a disconnect.”

Mr. Harford knows the problem well. He calls it the “praise sandwich,” where
we stuff the bad stuff between two slices of compliments. But people often
hear only the praise.

“We say, ‘That was a great piece of work, there was just a small problem,’ ”
Mr. Harford said. “What we tend to hear is, ‘That was a great piece of work.’ ”

The better way, Ms. Ching said, is to be straightforward.

Research bears that out. In a class she teaches, Ayelet Fishbach, a professor
of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago and co-
author of the paper “Tell Me What I Did Wrong,” conducts a simulation where
half the class gives one-on-one feedback to the other half. Although the
feedback givers were supposed to indicate that performance was
unsatisfactory, that improvement was needed and to offer ways to do better,
in surveys filled out later, the half getting the feedback “thinks they’re doing
great,” she said.

While many of us tend to hear what we want to hear, Professor Fishbach
says she thinks the problem lies more with those providing the feedback.
“The negative feedback is often buried and not very specific,” she said.

Professor Fishbach also said people giving feedback often didn’t give
enough information, offered it too late or told subordinates what would
happen if they did something wrong rather than what they were actually
doing wrong. Employees need to know in detail what they should do to get
promoted, for instance. If you tell them simply that they’re not going to get
promoted, she said, “That’s not feedback — it’s already an outcome.”

Some companies have developed their own terminology for feedback. Peter
Sims, author of “Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small
Discoveries,” said the film company Pixar used an idea it called “plussing.”
The point, he said, is to “build and improve on ideas without using
judgmental language.”

Here’s an example he offers in his book. An animator working on “Toy Story
3” shares her rough sketches and ideas with the director. “Instead of
criticizing the sketch or saying ‘no,’ the director will build on the starting
point by saying something like, ‘I like Woody’s eyes, and what if his eyes
rolled left?”

Using words like “and” or “what if,” rather than “but” is a way to offer
suggestions and allow creative juices to flow without fear, Mr. Sims said.

Brain scans of people show that judgmental language — or even being told
you have to do things in a certain way — lead to self-censoring, Mr. Sims told
me. Such scans show that when a musician is playing scales, for example,
“the part of the brain responsible for judging lights up,” he said. “That
doesn’t happen when playing jazz improvisation.”

Plussing is particularly helpful in the early stages, when there are lots of
ways a character can progress, he said, but as ideas become more
developed, it gets tougher.

“Animators at Pixar freely describe how painful it can be to have directors
plussing their ideas until the smallest details, say a sliver of hair, seems just
perfect,” he writes in his book. “But plussing allows for both pointed critique
and positive feedback simultaneously, so that even such persistent criticism
is not deflating.”

That’s the trick then: making negative feedback precise and timely enough
so that it’s helpful but neutral enough so that it’s not perceived as harshly
critical. That’s particularly difficult in a culture like ours, where anything short

of effusive praise can be viewed as an affront.

But, again, if we look at feedback as an opportunity to make someone work
better rather than feel better, we’re more likely to do it successfully. As
Professor Fishbach said, “We’re probably unaware that people would like to
know how to improve, and they deserve to know it. It’s their right.”

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