‘The Power Paradox: How we gain and lose influence’ by Dacher Keltner helps to frame the concept of power in a new narrative which helps us with creating more equal relationships, workplaces and communities. The book aims to present to readers that the way we define power is biased, and how to reassess this in our day-to-day lives.
Dacher Keltner explains in the book, ‘the power paradox is this: we rise in power and make a huge difference in the world due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst.’
Dacher Keltner studied the concept of power for 20 years before publishing The Power Paradox in 2016. Keltner studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now is a professor of psychology at the University of California, where he directs the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab. Keltner has dedicated his life and research to the biological and evolutionary origins of compassion, power, social class, inequality and more.
In the book, Keltner shares his 20 original ‘power principles’ that show how we can gain power by maintaining a focus on others. The book busts the myths around power and makes us reconsider all things influence, status and equality related. We will explore each of these 20 ‘power principles’ later.
The book explores the original ways we defined power, and how Italian Diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli of the 15th century defined the term which still shapes us in modern society. Machiavelli explained ‘power’ revolved around fraud, manipulation and strategic violence, and despite this, power is widely considered as positive and socially important.
Throughout Keltner’s research, he has found that when someone can influence others, it is because they have the potential to enhance their lives. With this in mind, power is considered to become a ‘reward’ for being socially useful. The paradox isn’t solely about how we define power in society, but it also helps us to explore the experience of feeling powerful, and how it changes the individual.
Groups, whether it be in society, workplaces or communities, seek out socially intelligent leaders, we then gain power through what is good in human nature, but as a result of power, our social intelligence decreases which then results in problematic human behaviour. This will see the ongoing decay in power over time.
Dacher Keltner explains that the key to obtaining and maintaining power is learning how to deal with the ‘power paradox’, which is where he shares his tips from research. Some of Keltner’s tips include to ‘show leadership’, ‘don’t take power for granted’ and ‘acknowledge your privileges’.
The 20 Power Principles are:
Principle #1: Power is about altering the states of others.
Principle #2: Power is part of every relationship and interaction.
Principle #3: Power is found in everyday actions.
Principle #4: Power comes from empowering others in social networks.
Principle #5: Groups give power to those who advance the greater good.
Principle #6: Groups construct reputations that determine the capacity to influence.
Principle #7: Groups reward those who advance the greater good with status and esteem.
Principle #8: Groups punish those who undermine the greater good with gossip.
Principle #9: Enduring power comes from empathy.
Principle #10: Enduring power comes from giving.
Principle #11: Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude.
Principle #12: Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite.
Principle #13: Power leads to empathy deficits and diminished moral sentiments.
Principle #14: Power leads to self-serving impulsivity.
Principle #15: Power leads to incivility and disrespect.
Principle #16: Power leads to narratives of exceptionalism.
Principle #17: Powerlessness involves facing environments of continual threat.
Principle #18: Stress defines the experience of powerlessness.
Principle #19: Powerlessness undermines the ability to contribute to society.
Principle #20: Powerlessness causes poor health.