We don’t usually think much about power, unless it’s being blatantly abused. But power dynamics are always in play in relationships. Today, let’s focus on power issues at work.

We’re most often aware of power when someone has power over us, for example, a boss. How our workday goes depends a fair amount on how our boss uses their power. A few wield their power lightly, providing leadership and support while we do our jobs. These bosses are as wonderful as they are rare!

Bosses who lord their power over us can make our workplace miserable by micromanaging, demanding impossible schedules, berating our efforts, and showing disrespect in other ways. When we have an overbearing boss, we need to concentrate on the power we do have to our best advantage. Most importantly, we need to keep our own center, remembering that our self-worth is not dependent on our boss’ opinion. If we keep our cool, we can be strategic in our choices, choosing what to say and when. We might brainstorm with colleagues we trust to improve the situation. Updating our resumés will give us a head start in case another job with a better work environment becomes available.

When the situation is reversed and we are the boss, we have a lot of choice about how we wield our power. Of course, we can spend our time strutting around importantly and telling those under us what to do. But remember how it felt when others did that to us. We can bet that the ones on the receiving end of our heavy-handedness will feel the same things and will be doing everything they can to undermine us or get away from the situation.

So how do we use our power wisely? Right use of power for a boss rests on compassion and awareness of our impact on others. Yes, we can get away with more when we have more power, but taking advantage of those below us on the ladder diminishes us. Think about it – those who use power over others for their own gain are called bullies. Instead of being a bully, we can take the needs of others into account, listen to their concerns or feedback, and make the choices that benefit most.

When we are subject to the power of others at work, it’s important to be aware of and make use of the power we do hold. It may take time, energy, and the help of others to make improvements. It may even mean changing jobs. But even as we do this for ourselves, we are acting as role models, showing others what is possible in a difficult situation. Using power well earns respect, bringing more power to us.

We must keep in mind that there are cultural aspects of power, too, regardless of the organizational hierarchy. Our experience at work and the options available to us are affected by the amount of money we have, our race, our level of education, our gender, etc.

We don’t want to focus on power relationships all the time, but it’s good to check in periodically with how we’re using our own power at work. Regardless of whether we have a lot of power or not much, are we using what we have effectively and responsibly? The more respectfully we use our power, the better people we become, the more power we earn, and the more easily we’ll get along at work.