A Personal Power Challenge to You

power of effective negotiation at work

Do you remember Victor, the successful 34-year-old technology VP we profiled in our May/June article about reclaiming Personal Power? The man who as a child was shunned and became a loner and outsider because a long-ago teacher encouraged his classmates to see his intelligence as grandstanding?

Our challenge to Victor was to stop giving his power to that old state of affairs. And here in his words, is how he went about doing that.

“I remember saying to you that not giving up personal power would mean socializing more and making friends. To be truthful, the thought of doing that for even a day filled me with dread. Needless to say, I spent the next two weeks imagining all the terrible things that would happen if I stepped out of my comfort zone… out of the constrained and safe but lonely routines I’d established. I was afraid of being shunned.

Then my birthday came along.

There was a family celebration, and after I’d opened my gifts and was helping carry cake-plates back into the kitchen, I overheard one of my aunts say to my mother that compared to the outgoing boy I’d been, I’d certainly turned out to be a quiet man. I heard my mother agree with her, and then added that I’d changed in middle school… that adolescence had turned me into a loner.

When I heard those words, I was suddenly hit with memories of that teacher shaming me for being eager and intelligent, which is when I realized that it wasn’t adolescence that changed me; it was the subtle bullying and the resultant shunning. That’s when I realized my aunt was right; I had been an outgoing child… and a happy and curious one to boot; it was woven right into my DNA.

The silent loner-boy behaviour was learned behaviour. It wasn’t who I truly was.

I was standing outside that kitchen door when I grasped all this, which is when I made the vow to ‘never again’ let myself be squelched like that.

How did that realization and declaration translate into action—into change?

The action part came really quickly. And I didn’t start small. I attended a Town Hall meeting and spoke up about my disagreement with a proposed development; took a dancing lesson; went to a soccer game and yelled my head off, and I even began going to the TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) pub gatherings. I also told family members that I wanted to start dating and to please let me know if they had friends they thought would be compatible.

I made mistakes. I came on too enthusiastically and too strong a few times… which made me want to crawl back into my old shell. But to do that would be to let that teacher ‘win’ again and have power over me, and that was enough to snap me out of any inclination to morph back in to loner-boy.

I’m still going through the change part; for even though the action part – the transformation in my behaviour – was immediate, I’m still in the internal process of getting used to being ‘me’. There are times when I feel a little out-of-body; when I miss that person who braved those years of loneliness. But I know that bravery only existed in response to the difficulties and pain I faced, and while I can be proud of that boy who found a way to cope, I no longer have to keep my head down and react to life as if it’s a classroom controlled by a bully.”

How’s that for reclaiming personal power?

Please don’t get us wrong.  We aren’t saying that you must take immediate bold action like Victor did.  There’s nothing wrong with starting with ‘baby steps’: small, low-risk actions to show yourself that you can do this.  What’s important is that you pick something tangible and meaningful enough to feel/notice a difference.  This will provide incentive to keep going.

This is the last in our series about how to regain Personal Power. Our deepest hope is that if you think you’re in the habit of giving up your power, you’ll ask yourself the same questions we put to the three people we’ve been profiling this past year.

  • When did you first give your power up? How old were you? Who did you give it up to? And why?
  • As an adult, what is the biggest amount of power you ever gave up? Why did you think you had to do that?
  • What would happen if you never gave up your power again? The worst thing? The best thing?

So, ask yourself those questions, sit with the answers and watch the changes happen.
Because like the song says: “You’ve got the Power”.


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