If you have ever experienced invalidation, bullying, or abuse in your life, you may be extra sensitive to power dynamics in the workplace. Whether it’s mandatory meetings, an angry manager, or unfavorable assignments, it can be frustrating to feel a loss of control in your career. Learning how to acknowledge the realities of working with a boss who will have some control over your day while still maintaining your own boundaries and sense of freedom is a challenging but worthwhile endeavor. With its integration of interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness, dialectical thinking, and willingness, DBT can help you navigate the minefield of workplace power!
First, remember the importance of thinking dialectically. When in conflict with a coworker or boss, try taking multiple perspectives -- is there room to see both sides? What is it your manager is asking for, and why? Or, for a boss, what is the importance of your employee’s request -- can you see their point of view? Do the needs of the other align with your personal values and work goals, or do they require you to sacrifice something? What are the pros and cons of meeting someone else’s demand? If it feels like you are being overrun by a leader or coworker, try offering up your own opinions. Asserting yourself in this way, while staying mindful and using “I” statements, will let you set a boundary and retain some power in the relationship while still maintaining self-respect.
Interpersonal effectiveness reminds us all to stay respectful and interested in the other person while taking a non-judgmental stance. Applying mindfulness and bringing deliberate awareness to your situation will help you remain present, combat feelings of victimization or helplessness, and stay in Working Mind. Taking a pause to examine the choices available to you before reacting will ensure that you are responding in an effective, intentional way.
Radical acceptance, or the ability to stop fighting reality, is another skill that can help in acknowledging authority and the power your boss or other colleague holds. Shifting into this mindset can help conquer the resistance you may feel to performing assigned tasks. If you are able to radically accept that you have a place in the organization’s hierarchy and may have to do things you don’t want to do, it will help mitigate feelings of resentment that can stand in the way of productivity and job satisfaction.
And, just as employees may struggle with a frustrating lack of power, managers may also have a problem with a surplus of power. It can be hard for bosses to appear confident and capable, two qualities important in a leader, but by being genuine, staying mindful, and focusing on the relationship, managers can communicate more effectively with their workers and build trust within their organization. An effective manager who knows how to use their position of authority to better lead the organization will encourage a sense of safety and intention for their employees.
So, whether its bestowed power that comes from the top of an organization or earned power that comes from a worker’s background and track record, power is an undeniable fact of the workplace. Each employee, regardless of hierarchy, maintains a form of power at work and by utilizing DBT skills, it is possible to effectively meet the needs of a boss, a colleague, and most importantly, yourself!
Written By Krystyl Wright , LCSW