Playing power down is a way to connect to people and earn their trust.
Let’s go back to that improv acting class from the previous blink. Once again, the acting coach wants to see a powerful character on stage. Except this time the character shouldn’t dominate the scene.
Strange, right? Well, not to an experienced actor.
As we’ve just learned, playing power up can be an effective way to demonstrate power and command respect. But it’s not the only way to inhabit a powerful role.
Instead of putting a character’s power on display, actors sometimes do the opposite and play power down. This means deliberately trying to seem less powerful, perhaps by not talking as much or by disappearing into the background. Just like playing power up, playing power down has its uses on stage and in real life.
The key message here is: Playing power down is a way to connect to people and earn their trust.
When those with power downplay it, they make an effort to appear less intimidating and less worthy of attention than they really are.
People do this by, for example, making fun of themselves, letting others make decisions, or asking for approval or help. These actions diminish the powerful person, whilst elevating the knowledge and opinions of those around them.
Now, if power is the ability to control people and make things happen, why would anyone choose not to play power up? One reason is that playing power down can be a way of people-pleasing or passing the buck. But this isn’t how this tactic should be used.
Playing power down is how leaders show a willingness to connect with people, and not just control them. It’s a way of showing that those in power are more concerned with working together than with maintaining status. This disarms people and encourages trust, as two partners at the top venture capital firm, Sequoia Capital, discovered.
When trying to recruit a young female CEO, their first instinct was to use the power and perks attached to the firm. This failed, so they decided to play their power down. After learning that their prospective hire loved dressing up as comic book characters, they met her dressed in Toy Story costumes. Seeing these high-powered men looking so ridiculous on her account showed the CEO that they would do anything to make her comfortable. She joined the team on the spot!