Nothing By Chance Blog

POWERPLAY – When Power Over Dominates

Power, like gravity or oxygen, permeates our being though invisible, soundless and untasted. We become aware of power when someone tries to impose their will upon us. Schmokler has made clear that our response is limited to takeover, withdrawal, assimilation or imitation. Imitation is responding with an attempt to impose our will on the aggressor. Game theory teaches that the most effective imitation is a strategy called tit-for-tat.

The purpose of tit-for-tat is to return to, or establish, cooperation with the person, or group, asserting their will. The essence of tit-for-tat consists of retaliation at a level just below the intensity of the initial  aggression, while making it clear that co-operation is preferred and available to the aggressor if s/he so chooses.

A simplistic example comes from Samuel Clemens. Tom Sawyer, stuck with whitewashing a fence turned the other boys taunting and teasing into a joint whitewashing endeavor.

A business hypothetical that will be familiar to many could occur in this manner. Finance attempts to impose a restrictive travel limit on the sales department. The sales department responds to finance with detail on the savings to be realized from a reduction in financial staff and an offer to join with finance in developing a travel to revenue ratio that will be factored into future sales staff travel plans.

According to Axelrod, Tit-for-tat is a successful Evolutionary Stable Strategy because it is ‘nice’, ‘provokable’ and ‘forgiving’. A nice strategy is one which is never first to [assert]. In a match between two nice strategies, both do well. A provokable strategy responds by [asserting] at once in response to [aggression]. A forgiving strategy is one which readily returns to co-operation if its opponent
does so; unforgiving strategies are likely to produce isolation and end co-operative encounters .

History provides examples of the futility of ignoring and the benefits of employing tit-for-tat. When Neville Chamberlain ceded Poland to Hitler in exchange for the “promise” to end German conquest, Hitler took this as weakness and barreled through the rest of Western Europe. On the other hand, John Kennedy’s response to Nikita Krushchev during the Cuban missile crisis was tit-for-tat. Russia’s
establishment of missile sites in Cuba was the initial Krushchev aggression. The blockade of Cuban ports was the 90% retaliation. When Russia turned her ships carrying more missiles back to Russia, the United States made good on its unpublicized promise to remove missile sites from Russia’s southern border. Not only was nuclear holocaust avoided but Krushchev’s inference that John Kennedy was exploitable was dispelled and cooperative ventures were eventually undertaken between the two superpowers.

Recent American political history is rampant with the desire for each political party to seek power over the other. Much of the post-Presidential election conversation has been about the futility of the pursuit of power over one another at the expense of power for the betterment of the country. Tit-for-tat is not an end in itself. The strategy seeks power for a greater good by demonstrating strength, willingness to move beyond conflict and valuing collaboration to attain greater good.

NBCC coaches and counselors do not create solutions. NBCC supports individuals and organizations in the pursuit of the greater good as they define the greater good. The next PowerPlay discussion will address breakthrough, how to cultivate and maintain cooperation and collaboration for attaining a greater good. NBCC makes winners into champions!

  1. Phuritchaya

    I have very little experience working in the private business sector therefore my observations with regard to the work place relationships my be irrelevant. Upon reflection it seems to me that, as a young teacher, I would often engage in personal conversations with fellow teachers. It was through these conversations that I determined with whom I would be close friends with and with whom I would only have a passing relationship. As a teacher I became close friends with a number of colleagues to the point that some became God parents to my children and vice versa and business partners. Had I maintained a limited engagement policy I doubt those relationships would have flourished. Perhaps those personal conversations were a type of social vetting process.When I became an administrator the dynamics of those conversations did change. Perhaps they were more reflective of the work place environment in the private sector. As the “boss” I was more cautious with my conversations and the same was true of the teachers toward me. I don’t know if it was a case of “familiarity breeds contempt” or knowing that some day you might have to make a hard decision with regards to someone you considered a friend. I was also older and not necessarily looking to foster new personal relationships. My relationship with fellow administrators was minimal but we had very little daily interaction as each was in his/her own building only coming together for mandatory meetings.In retrospect I would say then that as a young teacher my conversations with other teachers were indeed personal and some times heated but we were equals and unafraid of repercussions. My ideals, methods, values, etc. had no bearing on the effectiveness or nature of how others performed their job or the assessment of their personal performance in the work place. We felt safe in those conversations.As an administrator the need to appear to be fair and detached from making decisions based upon friendships was paramount and necessitated a certain amount of separation with regards to friendships. I believe trust was the biggest issue.The point where a professional relationship turns into a personal one is hard to define and sometimes recognized. Maybe it’s that gut feeling we get that tells us it’s OK to be more open or not to proceed that we are trying to understand. Maybe it’s the circumstances of the situation or maybe just our attempt at self preservation.