Playing power up is best used to protect the interests of others.
Imagine you’re taking an improv acting class and you’re asked to play a powerful character. How would you do it?
Most people would try to take control by raising their voices, interrupting other characters, and swaggering around the stage. This assertive behavior is called playing power up and actors use it often. It’s their way of getting people on and off the stage to respect their character.
Playing power up doesn’t only happen in theaters and acting classes, though. People do it at work, at home, and in many other social situations. The problem is that they don’t always do it for the right reasons.
The key message here is: Playing power up is best used to protect the interests of others.
In the real world, playing power up is a way of asserting power over others and commanding respect. And there are different ways of doing this.
Most often, it’s by pulling rank. People enforce rules or get others to comply by emphasizing their authority. For example, Henry Ford reportedly silenced employees who questioned him by saying, “My name is on the building.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that!
It’s also hard to argue when someone with power says no, interrupts you, or ignores you completely. Similarly, someone with power can freely judge subordinates by making fun of them, complimenting them, or criticizing them. Even if subordinates don’t like it, they can’t complain because they don’t have the power.
Playing power up can be arrogant or aggressive, if you do it purely to assert your dominance or to intimidate others. But when people need someone to take charge or make difficult decisions, playing power up is exactly the right approach.
Think of a leader who interrupts the most talkative person in a meeting so that other people can share their insights, or one who uses her right to say no to keep a project on track and under budget. Asserting power in these situations benefits the team as a whole. Studies even show that power-holders who do this are seen as competent and caring.
So, whenever you’re tempted to play power up, first ask yourself if it’s in the best interests of those around you, or only for show. Based on the answer, you’ll know how to act.