How To Gain More “POWER” In business

Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he directs the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab.

On this episode of the Salesman Podcast, Dacher explains what “power” is in the context of the business world and how we can get more of it.

You'll learn:

Sponsored by:

Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Dacher Keltner
Professor of Psychology

Resources:

Transcript

Will Barron:

In this episode of The Salesman Podcast, you're going to learn how to get more power and how to keep it in the world of sales, in the corporate world, and business as a whole.

 

Will Barron:

Hello [inaudible 00:00:14], and welcome to today's episode of The Salesman Podcast. On today's show, we have Dacher Keltner. He is a professor of psychology over at UC Berkeley. He is the author of The Power Paradox, the book, you can find that on Amazon. And on today's show, we're diving into power: what it means versus power versus influence versus confidence, how you can have more of it, both inside the workplace and outside of it, and how you can use it for both good and how you can lose it by doing bad stuff as well. So with of all that said, let's jump in into today's show. Dacher, welcome to The Salesman Podcast.

 

Dacher Keltner:

It's great to be with you Will.

 

Is There a Way to Measure Power? · [01:17] 

 

Will Barron:

I'm glad to have you on. I'm excited to dive into… I love the psychology end of things in the world of sales. I love speaking with someone like yourself, who's an academic who can talk about this on a deeper level than some of the so-called sales experts and offers of that nature that we have on the show. So I'm kind of [bigging 00:01:07] you up here, because I'm excited to dive into all of this, but we're going to talk about power, influence, and there's a whole lot of subtopics that I'm sure we'll touch on within that realm as well. And where I want to start Dacher, is there a scale or a point system or some way of measuring the power that I guess, we either have, or that we don't have? And then the question kind of goes into, I guess, is that just a flat thing, or does that depend on the individual that we're speaking to, or does that depend on the circumstance? Is there a way to measure this at all, or is it just too complex?

 

Dacher Keltner:

Well, you just asked a question that took us about five years of science to answer, so I really appreciate it. Yeah, so Cameron Anderson and I, and Cameron now teaches at our school of business here at UC Berkeley. He and I developed a scale called the Sense of Power Scale that was published, I think in 2012. And it's really simple. It just asks, how much influence do you have? How much power do you have? Do you tend to get your way in different social situations? And then critically, to your questions, what we find is that power, there's a lot of individual variability.

 

Dacher Keltner:

Some people feel like they're really changing the world, other people don't. And that's interesting psychologically. And then I think your last question Will, is perhaps the most surprising in terms of its answer, which is that people vary from context to context in how much influence they feel they have. I go to work at Berkeley and I teach and I do my research and give a talk, I feel empowered. And then I come home and negotiate with my teenage daughter, I feel humbled. So, and I think your audience members will know that this feeling or sense of power really fluctuates.

 

The Science Behind Power and Situational Competence · [03:01] 

 

Will Barron:

So is this a similar effect to situational confidence, for example? And is this based on, for example, past experiences? Does that make up how empowered we feel?

 

Dacher Keltner:

Yeah. I think that the science on power is starting to realise that at one big piece to the puzzle's just basic competence, right? So I consult down at Facebook and if you know how to write great code, you will have influence. But then the second piece is the social dimension to power. Right? Are you warm and do people trust you and do they feel like you have integrity in the signals that you emit? So yes, situational competence really matters enormously in terms of your feeling of power and whether you have it.

 

Will Barron:

Because this reminds me of… so my background is in medical device sales. And here in the UK, in the NHS, I shouldn't be technically in the operating room with the surgeon most of the time that I'd be in there. And obviously I'm there to support them, I'm helping them, I'm giving them guidance on products and I sold endoscopic equipment, so I was showing them how to use the cameras. And half of the time I was operating it for them kind of like outside of the surgical field and printed off images and all this kind of thing for them. But, I found it incredible that I could essentially walk into any operating theatre, put on some scrubs, walk into the room, go “Oh, sorry,” and it happened to be the wrong surgeon in there. And I'd perhaps chat to one of the theatre staff and then I'd go back out, go in to someone else's operating theatre.

 

The Power Paradox and Why It’s So Important · [05:00] 

 

Will Barron:

And that would a hundred percent be down to just confidence. And some of it was blind confidence of, I thought I was going in the right room at the right time, and I just happened not to be, and so you trying to blag the situation and not look silly, but then part of it was just… I describe it feeling that I should be there, versus, whether rightly or wrongly I should. So is power like that in that it's almost in the eye of the beholder of, if you believe it, that you have power, you do have some kind of influence? Or is it… what I'm asking is, do you choose to have power and influence or is it something that you earn from other people and they have to give it to you?

 

“The studies are showing there are basic things you can do that have that confidence magic that gets you power. So speak up, ask great questions, lean in, go out to lunch with people, and connect. But your long-term power, the legacy you have, whether you really rise in the ranks in organisations over years, is fundamentally rooted in other people giving you power. Do they trust you? Do they respect you? So you really need to do both. You need to find the confidence and then you need to really evoke trust in others.” – Dacher Keltner · [05:42] 

 

Dacher Keltner:

God, what a terrific question. I think that the answer really is both. And there's been, Will for 20 years I've been teaching executives and sales people and finance people. And that is the critical question that they really want practical answers to, which is that “Hey, I'm new to this organisation. How do I really gain traction?” Right? And the studies are showing their basic things you can do that have that confidence magic that get you power. Right? So speak up, ask great questions, lean in, in Cheryl Sandberg's terminology. Go out to lunch with people, connect. And I write about that a bit in The Power Paradox, but your long term power, right? The legacy you have, whether you really rise in the ranks and organisations over years, I think is as fundamentally rooted in other people giving you power, right? Do they trust you? Do they respect you? Do you do things that advance that organisation? That's intuitive, and a lot of data are bearing that out. So you really need to do both. You need to find the confidence and then you need to really evoke trust in others.

 

The Difference Between Power and Confidence · [06:30]

 

Will Barron:

What's the difference between power and confidence? Because they kind of blur the lines a little bit in the middle and especially in the corporate world and the customer and salesperson world, they seem to blend the lines. But is there a clear definition that separates them?

 

“Confidence is the quality that an individual has that they will get things done. And then power is a more complicated process by which you're building social networks, you're demonstrating your competencies, you're doing work. You're making a difference in the world. And so confidence is one pathway ultimately to your power.” – Dacher Keltner · [06:50] 

 

Dacher Keltner:

I think that confidence is the quality that the individual has that they will get things done. Right? And then power is a more complicated process by which you're building social networks, you're demonstrating your competencies. You're doing work. You're making a difference in the world. And so confidence is one pathway ultimately to your power, but there are going to be other important pathways as well to making a difference in the world.

 

How Is Feeling Powerful Tied to Personal Success? · [07:21] 

 

Will Barron:

So let's take it out of the world of business and sales for a second. Are people who, maybe even rightly or wrongly feel empowered, feel that they have power over their lives. Is there any research that shows they are more successful or it's negligible, or happier, or it doesn't matter? Is there data on these kind of points.

 

Dacher Keltner:

God, Will, my other commitment or scientific inquiry is happiness and wellbeing and health, physical health. And in a way, what got me into the study of power are incredible answers to your question, which is, does power matter, right? Do you want your children to feel powerful when they go to school? Do you want your kids to feel powerful at home or do you want to feel powerful later in your life? And I think that the social scientific literature for a long time felt like power's kind of a dirty word, right? It's only the really sociopathic people who get power. And hundreds of studies suggest otherwise, which is that if I feel powerful in any context, I'll have a calmer stress response. I will feel more optimistic. I will feel happier. I'll experience more joy in life, right?

 

“We want societies to have a lot of people who feel like they have power because it's good for your nervous system. There are studies that show if you take a 10-rung ladder, and you say “Where are you in society?” And if I'm a seven on a 10-point scale and 10 is the most powerful person, and my neighbour feels like she or he is an eight, she will live a longer life than me, even though we eat the same food, live in the same neighbourhood, go to the same doctors. Power matters for your physical health. So I'm all for empowering as many people as possible.” – Dacher Keltner · [08:50] 

 

Dacher Keltner:

Every positive emotion goes up when I feel powerful. And I think that literature tells us that in some sense, we want to democratise power. We want societies to have people… well, a lot of people who feel like they have power, because it's good for your nervous system. There are studies that show, this finding blew me away, which is that… and this is really large samples, which is that you take a 10 rung ladder, right? And you say “Where are you in society?” And if I'm a seven on a 10 point scale and 10 is the most powerful person, and my neighbour feels like she or he is an eight, she will live a longer life than me, even though we eat the same food, live in the same neighbourhood, go to the same doctors, power matters for your physical health. So I'm for empowering as many people as possible.

 

The Link Between Power, Happiness, and Good Health · [09:36] 

 

Will Barron:

Why is that? I'm assuming there's some kind of tribal nature, or is it the kind of like sink and swim nature of humans if they want to… do you feel more secure and you feel more resourceful if you are in a higher power status than the people around you?

 

Dacher Keltner:

Yeah. I mean, there are two deep answers to that question of why does power bring me happiness and health? And one is what Robert Sapolsky and others started to learn about feeling really at the low ranks of a hierarchy. And this really started with baboon studies, believe it or not, in the 1980s. And there they found, and studies have just built upon this, which is that if I feel like I'm in the low rungs of a hierarchy, I'm submissive, I'm constraining my posture, cortisol is activated all the time, and that's bad news for the body. And then by contrast, there are just a lot of rich studies showing if I feel like I'm making a difference in the world or have power, my mind is more fertile. I'm more agentic, I pursue my goals with great vigour. I feel good. Right? So those two literatures really speak to kind of this personal side to power where it really matters as much health wise and happiness wise as almost any variable that you could study, from eating red meat to smoking. It's a big deal.

 

How to Become The Most Powerful Person in the Room · [11:00]

 

Will Barron:

Amazing, amazing. Well, let's pull this back to the audience now, the individuals who are listening. So you kind of alluded to it then, but there's a stereotype of, let's use Sam the salesman as an example. There's a stereotype of the most powerful person in the room being Sam the salesman who's red faced, almost angry, kind of overly alpha, dominating the conversations. And we see him or obviously, or it could be a her, as the most powerful person in the room. Is there truth to that, or can the most powerful person in the room be the introverted perhaps, and obviously I'm making this up as I go along, the introverted billionaire who're sat there just taking notes?

 

Dacher Keltner:

Well, there are a couple really interesting observations in your question. And the first is that, and Susan Kane in her book, Quiet, which is a terrific book, has written about how given the changing nature of work, right? A lot of people who have power, say, in the new technologies or biomedical places like you worked in, will be quieter, right? They're not the kind of the old school approach to power. So that's interesting, that introversion has more power today.

 

Dacher Keltner:

But more importantly, or just as importantly, what you just described is what I call the power paradox, which is that we gain power in sales forces, finance firms, hospitals, military units, schools, when your kids are there, by being socially savvy and having competencies. But here comes the rub which is, to your observation, which is, the person who's kind of domineering and bullying people, kind of the stereotypical image of power, is actually abusing their power and on their way towards declines in having influence, right? So that's the paradox of power we always grapple with, which is you get it by really being good to others and listening well and so forth. And then just the seductions of power and the arrogance of power can make you lose those skills.

 

Do People Always Abuse Power When They Get it? · [13:05] 

 

Will Barron:

So my background of degrees in chemistry, so this'll make sense to you, but is it an equilibrium between how you're gaining it versus… and to what you just said then Dacher, of when people get power, do they always abuse it? Is that-

 

“It's really important who people choose as their leaders. If you give leadership to somebody who really cares about his team or her team, he or she will do well in a position of power. We also don't abuse power by building in features to our organisations or our democracies that keep the powerful in check.” – Dacher Keltner · [13:49] 

 

Dacher Keltner:

No, it's not. I mean, I dramatised that thesis in the book The Power Paradox, because you look out in the world and I mean, the United States' politics is full of it, right? It's like, “My God, look what these people are doing!” And it's inevitable that Lord Acton's right, we always abuse our power, absolute power corrupts absolute power corrupts absolutely. But more realistically, and this gives us hope, I would say there are a lot of people who don't abuse their power. So it's really important who you choose as leaders, right? If you give leadership to somebody who really cares about his team or her team, he or she will do well in a position of power. We also don't abuse power by building in features to our organisations or our democracies that keep the powerful in check, right? That they're accountable, they're aware of their reputation. So the abuse of power is not inevitable, thankfully.

 

What’s The Likelihood That People in Power Will Abuse The Power Eventually? · [14:25] 

 

Will Barron:

I just want to drill down to this a little bit further because it seems almost anecdotally… or let me put it another way, if you are collecting all this power and you have it in this big pot, is it easier or are you more likely to spill it and to abuse it, because it's there? Versus the person who doesn't have any, and so they've got less opportunity to kind of to spill it in that metaphor?

 

“A lot of inappropriate behaviour emanates from people who feel powerful. So in our studies, we find powerful people at work are more likely to swear at their colleagues. They're more likely to act rudely. They're more likely to violate ethical standards at work. They're more likely to have sexual affairs. We did a study where we just looked at whether cars violated the rules of the road and zipped through this pedestrian zone. And drivers of less powerful, poor cars, always stop for pedestrians 46% of the time. Drivers of fancy cars ignored the pedestrian and just blazed on through. So we have to grapple with the fact that we're human beings and we will abuse power if we have the chance.” – Dacher Keltner · [14:53] 

 

Dacher Keltner:

Regrettably and we have to approach this very humbly, which is that when we feel power, a lot of inappropriate behaviour emanates from people and the spilling of the pot, as you say, emanates from people who feel powerful. So in our studies, we find powerful people at work are more likely to swear at their colleagues. They're more likely to act rudely, and that's well documented. They're more likely to violate ethical standards at work. They're more likely to have sexual affairs. We did a study where we just looked at whether cars violated the rules of the road and zipped through this pedestrian zone in the United States, a part of a roadway where you have to let pedestrians walk. And drivers of less powerful, poor cars, always stop for the pedestrian. 46% of the time, drivers of fancy cars ignored the pedestrian and just blazed on through. So we have to grapple with the fact that we're human beings and we will abuse power if we have the chance.

 

Practical Things You Can Do to Gain and Keep Power Within an Organisation · [16:20]

 

Will Barron:

Okay. So hopefully it's a tale of warning there for the audience. So we know that it's an ebb and flow. We know that we are in somewhat control of it and we know that we need to earn it, wide percentage of the rest of it, from other people and that they can empower us. And we know that empathy drives a lot of this. And I guess from what you're saying there, if you continue to have high levels of empathy, you're less likely to do something stupid and abuse your power. Is there a process or is there something that you can do that has the biggest effect and the biggest movement in your amount of power within the corporate world? Is there a step by step guide? Is there one or two things that you can do that will give you the biggest bang for the buck as you try and increase your power internally within an organisation? I guess that's the best way to start.

 

Dacher Keltner:

It's so interesting you ask this question. So, the book I wrote is about the science of power and its practise. And then, I wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review that I'm happy to share the link with you. And they said, let's think about the practical things you can do to gain power and to keep it. That's really important, right? A lot of people gain it and then they lose the trust of their colleagues and they fall. And so what the literature tells us is, it's really interesting. Gaining power speak up, right? There are really interesting studies in business schools showing, if you're in a group and you're all kind of jockeying for status… I'm a more introverted person, I may hold back, but make sure you speak up and ask good questions and advance some ideas, right? So that's point one.

 

Dacher Keltner:

Point two is really focus on others. And across context, we've talked about how power matters for kids and families and at work, it really is… and Stefan Kote in Toronto has done this work, people in organisations who really are thinking hard about what others are thinking, right? Are going to keep their power after they've risen. And then there are other things you can do as well, just to avoid the abuses of power. Just kind of get into this stance where you're taking stock of your feelings of power. And the minute you're saying things like “The world would be better if I ran it,” you know you're in trouble. So these are sort of old sort of-

 

Right and Wrong Motives of Power · [18:31] 

 

Will Barron:

But we laugh about that. That's something that we've all probably said working for an organisation of, not the world, but “I could do that job better than him or her,” or “The CEO has made a bad move here, I would've done that instead.” So what you are suggesting is, if you've got the power within the organisation to perhaps put that into action, then you might be going from the wrong motive. You might be going from a motive of “I'm just going to do better than them,” as opposed to what got you there and got you the power in the first place.

 

Dacher Keltner:

Yeah. It's really interesting that regrettably, as you rise in power, what you may become more interested in is power per se and not what are you doing to advance the cause of the organisation. I think that's really true. And I don't know of any studies of that, but that feels really compelling.

 

Will Barron:

Well, I know this, so this will hopefully make you laugh. And it'll make the audience laugh as well. I know this in the podcasting world of when I first started the show, obviously had zero downloads for a number of months. I wasn't bothered about the iTunes charts and where we were ranking. And then kind of fast forward two years, we're a top 100 business podcast, probably the most downloaded sales podcast on the planet, well, definitely if you look month on month numbers, because we put out more content than anyone else as well. But even now I'm like “Well, there's that,” they're not, obviously not as niche as what my show is. It might be just a business show, an entrepreneurship show, but like “I could smash them.” And maybe it's your aspirations and stuff as well, but then there's no need for me to beat them.

 

Will Barron:

They're not in my world. My listeners aren't listening to their show, because it's a totally different niche. It's a totally different vertical. But maybe I find a little bit of power over myself in that the influence that we're starting to… not necessarily me, but the audience is starting to have, as it grows. And the fact that your book will sell a whole bunch of copies after being on the show. And I know that there's that little bit of influence of getting people on as guests. I do find myself occasionally just going “Ah, that person's an idiot. I'd love to just crush their show.” And not necessarily to get anything away from them, but just be higher up in the charts on them. So yeah, it's interesting that you say that.

 

“If the quality of your work diminishes when you become seduced by our own power, I think there's reason to worry.” – Dacher Keltner · [20:46] 

 

Dacher Keltner:

You know Will, as we speak, I'm analysing your shows to see if you've become less sophisticated as your numbers rise. And it's a hypothesis I've been really interested in, which is, does the quality of our work diminish when we become seduced by our own power? And I think there's reason to worry. So, but you're aware of it, so perhaps you'll avoid it.

 

The Innate Human Desire to Rise in Status · [21:00]

 

Will Barron:

But then it depends what you mean by the quality. So if I went out to crush another show, I would probably narrow down and it might be a better product because I want to crush them. Versus if I didn't have that, because it's almost a human drive then, of you are in a scarcity mindset, there's not enough crops. You need to feed the family. So you want to just take and conquer. And so you might end up with a better product for it, but it might be not the best long term solution though. That probably is the downside to it.

 

Dacher Keltner:

It is. And one of the things that I think organisational scholars have noted, this is an old motive, like you said, crushing and being the top. There's pretty good data suggesting it's driven by testosterone, the desire to rise in status through any means necessary. But as you know Will, work has really changed, right? Most work today is much more collaborative and interdependent, right? Doing patents or innovations or sales or so forth. And so it calls for a tempering of that crush instinct to really do well.

 

Will Barron:

Well, this is one of the reasons why I wanted to… so my background is medical device sales, but I could have chose a whole bunch of other podcast avenues to go down. And I chose sales because there is this shift in sales at the moment. There's a shift from the alpha bully person on the phone using weird manipulation tactics to close a deal over the phone or in person of 20 years ago, to now, which is more my world of, there's the cliche stuff of giving value and all this kind of stuff, but really it's caring about the product, the position in the market, and who you can be in front of that you can genuinely change the course of their business with your product. And so it makes it a no-brainer for them to buy it, rather than bullying them to buy it.

 

Healthy Levels of Power During Sales Conversations · [22:54]

 

Will Barron:

And so I think that ties into this, this changing work as well. And I've got one kind of final question before the final question, that hopefully will wrap up this and give us some context in the world of sales. If we're selling to a prospect, should we be on equal levels of power within the conversation? Is that the healthiest place to be? Or again, it's the stereotype, should we be looking for every single little bit of leverage and every single bit of power and talking over them and things like this to diminish their power or influence in the conversation to close the deal? Again, we can talk about it from the moment versus the longer term relationship there as well, but is there a best practise for the levels of power that we should be one, implementing into a sales conversation, and then trying to get the other person to perceive it as well?

 

Dacher Keltner:

What a terrific question. And at the end of this book, when I started to think about power dynamics at work and in politics and families, equality really, and equal footing emerged as the healthiest position, right? And the most productive. And we see this in studies of team functioning, which is, they just function better. People feel more empowered when they're on equal footing. You see this in families. My own experience, I told you to get my way through college in the United States, I sold books door to door for four years. And it was really clear, when I looked at the people who were really successful, they had this caring and connectedness to the people they were talking to. And it really started from equal footing. And it's interesting to think conceptually, which is that, in equality we trade, right? We reciprocate, we feel kind toward and we trust. And so I'd put my money on equal footing as if you could capture that in a salesperson's behaviour, you're going to find the really successful sales people.

 

Will Barron:

Amazing stuff. And I love the way that is probably the less sexy answer than “Yes, you should just go and crush everyone and take what's yours. And it's your money that you're taking from them, they're just holding it for you.” And all these weird cliche sales things that trainers of yesteryear and some sales trainers now still try and instil in sales people. So I like this.

 

Dacher Keltner:

Out today.

 

Dacher’s Advice to His Younger Self on How to Become Better at Selling · [25:20] 

 

Will Barron:

It just fits perfectly. And this is how I see sales changing, or just business changing as well, so I appreciate that. And with that Dacher, I've got one final question. Something I ask everyone that comes on the show and with your little anecdote about door to door sales, you'll probably have an insight to this. That is, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would be one piece of advice you'd give him to help him become better at selling?

 

Dacher Keltner:

God, I learned so much from those thousands of hours selling door to door. I would say honour the interests of the people you're working with. And if you just stay close to that one, you'll do fine.

 

Parting Thoughts · [26:00]

 

Will Barron:

Amazing stuff. Well, with that Dacher, tell us a little bit about the book, where we can find it, and where we can find more about you as well, sir.

 

Dacher Keltner:

Thank you. Well, so I'm a professor at UC Berkeley and I direct the Greater Good Science Centre, greatergood.berkeley.edu. We reach millions of people. Your listeners should check it out. And then, I study happiness and I study power. And for 20 years I've been studying power in different contexts that led to just the paperback release of The Power Paradox, published by Penguin. It's all over the place, it's at Waterstones in England. And it's interesting, when I wrote The Power Paradox, which really, your questions right? Are right at the core of why I wrote this book, like what is power? How does it fluctuate? How does it relate to health and happiness? How do I get it? And how do I keep it? I originally wrote a really long book that was 500 pages. And my editor said “Let's make this a fast read, a friendly read, for people to use, like sales people.” So I think your audience will really enjoy it.

 

Will Barron:

Amazing stuff. Well, I'll look to the book and everything else in the show notes of this episode over at salesmanpodcast.com. And with our Dacher, I want to thank you for your time, your insights. I love these conversations. Absolutely fascinating, mate. And I thank you for joining us on the Salesman Podcast.

 

Dacher Keltner:

Well thank you Will.

 

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