Having power in a working relationship is definitely a strong advantage.
Nevertheless, several pitfalls of being in high power can affect our perceptions and behavior.
Peter Coleman and Robert Ferguson, in their book Making Conflict Work present the most common errors people can make when in a position of power.
The power-psychosis trap
When in high power, individuals tend to process information more abstractly, perceive other people in more instrumental terms and become more goal focused, self confident and less inhibited than those in low power. Power reduces the capacity for complex reasoning, constrains moral judgement and increases the use of stereotypes. The implications are straightforward: if you are in a powerful position, you should not trust your own eyes. There is a high probability that your reading of situations will be highly biased, skewed in your favor, and inaccurate.
The bulletproof trap
This is a dynamic of the powerful that scholars call “super optimism”. It’s a form of hubris or arrogance in which power holders feel they can do or say whatever they want. Their behavior is then reinforced by the reward of satisfying their urge or need without any meaningful punishment. You should beware of any unnecessary and frivolous risk taking, which can bring harm to you and your group, as well as alienate other parties and stakeholder.
The invisible-underling trap
High power individuals are less likely to adopt someone else’s perspective or accept another person’s background knowledge, and are less accurate judges of facial expressions. They also recall less correct information about their subordinates and are less able to distinguish their unique characteristics. Having higher power seems to impair your capacity to appreciate what others see, think and feel.
The power? What Power? Trap
High power negotiators are notoriously bad at analyzing and estimating the leverage and resources available to their counterparts in lower power. They tend to assume that their superior aggregate power is sufficient to allow them to prevail in negotiations, and so they pay little attention to the specific types of leverage thor low power adversaries might employ. Weaker power parties are often more powerful than they appear at a first glance.
The screw-the-rules trap
In a series of studies conducted at Berkeley University of California, wealthier people were found to be more inclined to violate rules and break the law. In these studies, wealthy people were significantly more likely to lie during negotiations and to endorse unethical behavior like stealing at work.
The command and control, trap
People in high power tend to adopt a domineering and controlling conflict-resolution style and often lose the capacity to respond in other ways. Research has shown that power holders fall easily into domination, monopolizing speaking time and speaking out of turn. They are more likely to express their private opinions and attitudes. In negotiations, they tend to adopt one of two strategies: “take it or leave it” or “take it or suffer” and they fail in being flexible and create value.
The blind-ambition trap
High power individuals tend to become increasingly more optimistic, more confident about their choices and more action oriented. However, the increased self confidence reduces empathy and the increased optimism affects attraction to risk. People with blind ambition narcissistically overlook the emotions, reactions, and interests of others, failing to notice what is happening around them.
Adapted from Peter Coleman and Robert Ferguson, “Making Conflict Work”, Mariner Books