From the Hospital to the Political Arena: Examples of Productive Power

Power has the potential to ruin our interactions with others. But it can also be used productively.

Here are a few examples

  • Power can be used to encourage everyone to speak up. As I mentioned in a previous post, surgeon and author Atul Gawande offers a powerful example from the hospital where he works:

Each surgery is preceded by a discussion of the patient’s case. At the start, all attendants who are new to the meeting – from the anaesthesiologist to the nurse, to the clinician and the surgeon – have to introduce themselves by stating their name and role…

If you’ve actually been able to hear yourself in the room say: ‘I’m here, this is who I am’. That removes your barrier of wondering whether you’re even allowed to speak.”

  • Power can be used to ensure that meetings stick to their original purpose and finish on time. In this post, I discuss a simple but effective method from journalist and author Celeste Headlee.

  • Another example comes from New York Times columnist David Leonhardt. In his column about yesterday’s Democratic debate, he suggests putting ground rules in place to prevent men from interrupting women. This is a very important issue, which doesn’t only occur in politics but also in business settings.

Each candidate, for example, could be told they would be permitted one — and only one — chance to jump into the conversation, without being asked a question or directly criticized, during the night. After that, any attempt to do so would be cut off.

In summary, power is not necessarily evil. It can also be used to ensure that meetings stick to their purpose, finish on time and provide equal opportunity to everyone involved.