How power helps you bounce back

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self confidencePower has many advantages.  A famous study of the British civil service for instance found that the higher your rank, the better your health, with the results showing those in positions of power lived several years longer than the minions further down the food chain.

New research by UC Berkeley reveals that the powerful can enjoy other benefits as well.  It showed that receiving knock backs is like water off a ducks back for those in power.

On the surface this doesn’t seem all that revolutionary.  After all, many studies have suggested that the powerful score very highly for narcissistic qualities, so it seems unlikely that many will suffer from low self-esteem.

Whilst that may be true, the study does provide a useful reminder for those of us lower down the food chain that if we want to climb the slippery slope, a thick skin is a useful asset to have.

“Powerful people appear to be better at dealing with the slings and arrows of social life, they’re more buffered from the negative feelings that rejection typically elicits,” says Maya Kuehn, a doctoral student in psychology at University of California, Berkeley and lead author of the study.

The research concisted of five experiments into the power dynamics, both in the workplace and at home.  They wanted to explore how power influences our reaction to rejection in particular.

The experiments consisted of things such as having participants ignored for office happy hour gatherings.  If partipants were assigned low status they reported feeling upset by this rejection.  Those given high power however were not really bothered, and instead looked out for alternative social bonding opportunities with colleagues.

What was particularly interesting was an experiment into the giving of feedback.  When participants were given supervisory roles they were largely indifferent to any percieved snubs from their underlings.  If they gave poor feedback to their subordinates however then offence was generally taken.

“When rejected instead of accepted, subordinates reported lower self-esteem and greater negative emotion, but supervisors did not show an adverse reaction to rejection,” Kuehn says.

So this research is useful in reminding bosses that whilst they may be fine with receiving snubs, other people may not be, so they should word their feedback carefully.  I’ll be talking more about feedback in tomorrows blog.

2 thoughts on “How power helps you bounce back

  1. Not at all surprised by these findings, but think you're being too optimistic in expecting the powerful to have the self awareness not to expect others to be as narcissistic as they are.

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