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Stages of Power, Part 2 - The Motive Center
September 25th, 2005
11:53 pm

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Stages of Power, Part 2
Last time I got into the Stages of Power. If you're not up to date, I suggest starting here.

The reason why I like the Stages of Power so much is because it takes away the "Power is bad!" assumption most people make and instead moves it to "maturity of Power."

When Abigail Stewart first derived the Stages of Maturity, she originally thought that it would be stable--that is, once you were there, you stayed there. Turns out that isn't quite the case. Under serious emotional stress, you can revert back to an earlier stage, and then you recapitulate the cycle rapidly until you get to the highest stage you had before. It takes a while to get to a new stage, however, but you can always get back to it. The trend is towards going back upwards, fortunately.

In other words, people get immature under stress. Makes sense, doesn't it? And when we are talking about Influence motive--having an impact on or influencing others--it means you could go from gentle persuasion and subtle coaching to "oh yeah? Take that!"

Okay, so you are unlikely to drop that far without some unusual stress and/or psychoactive chemicals (say, alcohol), but it is at least possible.

I tend to think of the stages in terms of kids growing up, which obviously is not true, given the above statement, but it captures it readily, as well as indicating about when a stage can first be reached.

Stage I (Receptive) is infancy. All power flows from outside, to you. If you are with your mother, you are strong and safe. In adulthood, as I mentioned, it is about being part of a powerful person's circle.

Stage II (Autonomous) is later childhood up to, say, early adolescence. "You're not the boss of me!" If you control yourself, you are strong. In adulthood, it's about feeling strong because you are self-controlled. It's all about you--the source of power, and the target of power.

Stage III (Assertive) is where adolescence and beyond. The realization that you are not a powerless child is critical--that people actually respond to you! But the ability to perceive that you have had an impact must be developed, and also requires some basic ability as well (e.g., Emotional Intelligence). You could remain in Stage II forever, and simply be clueless as to how you smack into other people. In Stage III, you might not be skilled at it, but you are trying to have an influence on others, because that makes you feel strong. Adolescence is when a lot of people start asserting their independent identities (Stage II), but also when you start to collide with other people, with organizations, and with authority.

As I mentioned, Stage III can be split into "personalized" and "socialized," which means pretty much what they seem. Personalized power is selfish--zero-sum games, winning and losing: If you lose, I win. It is a very negative sort of combative power.

But there is also a positive combative power, where the idea is to fight for the right. That is "socialized" power, where have the self-control to manage your desire to assert yourself, and channel it into positive action, like persuasion instead of fighting. There is another characteristic required to turn Stage III power from personalized to socialized: Activity Inhibition (AI).

People reading this blog may recall that this is also critical in my analysis of published writers. AI allows you to postpone satisfaction, to channel your emotion, or at least to bottle it up! And I mean that literally--one study indicated that people with this profile (high Power motive, high AI) were indeed more socialized and were often better managers, but in men it leads to high blood pressure. All that bottled-up emotion, you see--in fact, the results were dramatic, as I recall. If you had this pattern, you had higher blood pressure on average. Power motive is also linked to epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenalin and noradrenalin) levels, so perhaps this isn't surprising. There are exceptions, of course, but in one study they found what they called the 50/50 effect: men with this motive pattern were 50% likely to have a cardiovascular incident by the time they were fifty! So this is good for dealing with people, but potentially very bad for your heart, unless you find some way to manage it or have some other ability to manage the emotion (since it is only 50%, after all).

So are published writers more likely to keel over from heart problems? Not necessarily, because they do have a way to manage their emotion--they write about it. The worst kind of stress is the kind you bottle up and do not release. But David Winter found that people who admitted to fantasies about violence were less likely to actually display them. Mystery writers, a group I know well, are able to bump off anyone who annoys them in their work, which they find very satisfying. My wife killed off an ex-boyfriend in her fourth book, which was after we'd been married for ten years or so (and dating five years before that), so she was certainly taking her time about it. The members of the Lovecraft Circle, a group of writers who wrote in H. P. Lovecraft's weird horror milieu, killed each other off on a regular basis as a joke. At least, they said it was a joke...

Anyhow, I suspect that the famous trait of writers mining their lives for content also allows them to unload the emotion bottled up in daily life. It has sometimes been commented that writers who are vicious in their work are sweet as sugar in person, and this may be why. Certainly I find mystery writers to be a fairly civilized lot on the whole, despite an occasionally unhealthy fascination with methods of cause grievous bodily harm. Managers with this pattern, on the other hand, who might not have any such channel--especially male managers, since men are taught by Western society to suppress their emotions--should keep an eye on their blood pressure!

Note that Stage III is a perfectly positive stage, and as high as most people get, and there is nothing wrong with that. Socialized power makes the world go 'round. Stage IV is a lot more rare.

Okay, I'm up to Stage III. Last time I noted that Stage IV might not be good for writers--I think I'll go into that next time.

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