Power tripping. The urban dictionary defines it as ‘someone, typically at work, who has higher powers over most people they work with’ whose power tends to go to their head causing them to abuse their rights as a boss just because they can.
We all know people like this. Self-important, self-absorbed and self-impressed. They use their power to get what they want at the expense of others and to remind themselves of their greatness.
I was engaged by a power-tripping client recently. We had completed a corporate communications training session, but the tripper who happened to hire us said the business office required some additional information if we wanted to get paid. After numerous back and forth emails with the client who couldn’t explain what the business office actually wanted, she forwarded their email to me, copied them and instructed me to provide what was requested.
Only the forwarded email was laced with a lot of mumbo jumbo such as ‘no reference to the governing paper’ and questions about pricing being standard fees or broken down and altered to reference government agreements. I didn’t understand it. So given she copied the person in charge of paying us on her email to me, I emailed that person directly, making sure to copy my client thinking she’d appreciate my effort. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Moments later a terse email from her appeared in my inbox ordering me to communicate only with her on this matter and not to speak to anyone else. But wait, didn’t she copy them on her email to me? Did I do something wrong?
No. Anyone who spends enough time with people knows that some will pull rank to show power. According to Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of Psych Tests, “what a lot of people don’t realize is when you pull rank to make sure people do what you want them to do, you lose some of that power.”
It occurred to me that like schoolyard bullies, grown up power trippers have simply graduated to the role of office bullies. They use their position as a way to command authority and respect by letting others know they are in charge. Yet like Dr. Jerabek pointed out, this need for control can cause the opposite effect and come at the expense of others.
As I mulled over the email, willing myself not to get sucked into my client’s power trip, I recalled something I observed at that training program that I would not have remembered if this recent correspondence hadn’t taken place.
There was a participant that the power tripper told me she didn’t like. Smart, educated and assertive, this person wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion even if it conflicted with the power tripper who held a higher rank. At the end of the program, when that participant asked a question to clarify information, the power tripper shot her down in front of everyone in the room. It was like watching a monkey beat its chest to show everyone who was in charge. The participant was humiliated and embarrassed in front of her peers.
Every one of us has the capacity to lead, but that doesn’t make someone a good leader. Leading is about motivating, inspiring, communicating and making others feel valued. When you degrade others, not only can you damage morale and productivity, but you may unknowingly damage your own reputation as well which ultimately could strip you of that power you crave.
Yet, we can’t always tattle like we did on the playground. What we can do is adapt a few DON’T strategies to trip up the tripper who wants you to engage.
I wanted to return my client’s email with a nasty response. That would only make her angry and affect business we do company wide. So I answered politely and professionally, focusing only on discussing the information that was requested.
DON’T sink to their level
If the power tripper says things like ‘do I have to do everything’ or ‘how many times do I have to tell you’, instead of insulting them back, ask for clarification saying you want to make sure you understand so you can provide what is needed.
DON’T keep talking
The less you say, the less likely it is you’ll get sucked into the tripper’s trap. When you give the tripper too many words, you are supplying that person with ammunition they will try to use against you.
As difficult as it may be, there are lessons to be learned from the power trippers in your life. While their behavior may be deplorable at times, you may learn how to be a better listener, strategies to adjust your own responses and ways to develop your own personal leadership style based on what you don’t like about the behavior of others.
That way when you find yourself in a position of power, you might be a little extra careful not to trip yourself up by letting it go to your head.