Why all Social Interactions Involve the Exercise of Power

All human interaction involves a negotiation of power. Even social interactions among friends involve differentials of power, with a myriad of factors determining which friends receive deference in determining the parameters of the interaction. In layman’s terms, some friends have more say in determining where the socializing occurs, under what circumstances and when. Peers who seem equal on the surface may be social unequals due to factors like income, seniority, physical appearance, family background and social connections. And since all social interactions involve differentials of power, all social interactions involve an exercise of such power. According to Stanford University, the ability to exercise power in social interactions like informal conversation may be a dominant factor in business leadership.

The development of social power occurs throughout life. Children who are more confident and popular develop social skills more rapidly than their less-outgoing peers. The effects compound over time, especially as children and teenagers begin to interact more regularly with adults. Teenagers who have enjoyed years of self-confidence and social popularity are likely to gain further power over their peers by receiving the best educational, internship and job opportunities from local adults. Academic research has regularly found a positive link between youthful self-confidence and popularity and career success, including a report from the University of Melbourne revealing that those who displayed more confidence earlier in life receive higher pay and more rapid promotions as adults.

To receive promotions over one’s peers and colleagues, one must display power and be seen as a superior leader. To be accepted by peers and colleagues as a new leader, one must have, or be able to rapidly develop, a reputation for leadership ability. The only way to do this would be through exercises of power in social interactions. A person who seeks power, therefore, must exercise it both personally and professionally. Since virtually all individuals seek some measure of power, power is displayed and wielded in all social interactions.

Parents who seek to instill a reputation of power and authority within their children must wield power in informal social situations with their children. They must be willing to tell their children “no.” Spouses who seek to appear brave, competent and reliable for their partners must wield power in social situations as well, being willing to stand up for themselves. Friends who want to garner the respect and admiration of their fellows must also exercise social power, being willing to engage in banter and lob witticisms that might hurt the feelings of others. The degree to which one wishes to be seen as powerful and authoritative will determine how potently one exercises power in social situations. One who wishes to be seen as a leader will behave more aggressively in social situations, attempting to dominate the scene.