© Claude M. Steiner PhD

July 1, 2004

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Chapter 5: Classifying Power Plays

Chapter 6: All or Nothing; Scarcity Power Plays

Chapter 7: How to respond to Power Plays; Escalation, Antithesis or Cooperation?

Chapter 8: A Closer Look

Chapter 9: Intimidation

Chapter 10: Lies

Chapter 11: Passive Power Plays

Chapter 12: The Cooperative Response and the Creative Solution.

Chapter 13: The Controlling Person

Chapter 14: Bringing Cooperation to a Competitive World

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We use power plays when we believe that we canít get what we want by just asking for what we want. We are familiar with situation in which one personís loss I anotherís gain and we often assume that what we want is scarce and canít be obtained without competing for it.

Power plays can be physical or psychological and can range from crude to subtle. Power plays also come in a variety of families of similar maneuvers. We will explore crude and subtle varieties of "All or Nothing" power plays, Intimidation power plays, Conversational power plays, Lies and Passive Power plays.

Power literacy involves knowing how power plays function and how to deal with them. When power played, a person has three choices. To submit, to escalate by responding with another power play, to neutralized the power play in order not to submit or escalate and finally the person can respond cooperatively. The cooperative response is an effort to find a creative solution that satisfies both parties.

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Chapter 5: 

Classifying Power Plays. 

We hardly notice how domination works, because we are immersed in it from birth. When domination is overtly physical it is hard to miss; there is nothing sophisticated about a fist in the face. But subtle physical and psychological power plays arenít always easy to detect.

If we want to fight unreasonable control and power abuse effectively, we need to fully understand how power plays work. The value of transactional analysis can be clearly seen here. Power plays are interpersonal transactions. With transactional analysis we can closely observe the step-by-step maneuvers of power relations and analyze them. Once we understand them we have the opportunity to figure out how to avoid them in our lives; using them or being subjected to them by others.


The definition of power, and this applies to all the sciences, from physical to psychic, is "the capacity to create change against resistance" and conversely "the capacity to resist change."

Power plays can be active or passive. Active power plays are transactions we use to get what we desire when we expect resistance from another person. Conversely passive power plays are the transactions we use when we want to resist the desires of others.

When we want a a certain change and expect resistance against it we use power plays instead of simply asking for what we want because we don't believe that a direct approach would work. We often use power plays when they are not needed because the other person would willing to cooperate and let us have what we want. Still, a substantial number of power play transactions occur because the other person would in fact resist. In any case, power plays are dedicated to disempowering other people by forcing our will on them.

Power plays are equivalent with power abuse. There are two main forms that the abuse of power can take: physical and psychological and it can be expressed in subtle and gross ways. Let us imagine, as an example, that you are sitting in a bus on a seat I would like to sit in. I assume that you will not gladly give up your seat so I decide to take it from you. If I am sufficiently strong, I may be able to push you or lift you out of your seat and this is an example of a physical power play. On the other hand, I may have the psychological power to move you out of your seat without using physical force. 

Psychological power depends on my capacity to cause you to do what I want, and what you don't want, to do; in this case it is designed to get you to move yourself out of your seat. I can cause you to give up the seat by creating guilt feelings in you. I can intimidate you with threats. I can seduce you with a smile, or with a promise, or I can convince you that giving up your seat to me is the right thing to do. I can trick you or con you. In any case, if I overcome your resistance to giving up your place without using physical force, I have used a psychological power maneuver--a power play--which relies on your obedience. Of course let us not forget it is also quite possible that you will gladly give your seat to me, that no power play is needed and that obedience is not an issue. 

If we imagine a two dimensional field in which one axis is the continuum Crude-Subtle and the other axis is the continuum Psychological-Physical we can divide all power plays into four quadrants.



               I            I         II




              III           I           IV



                         Figure I 



 There are two main forms of control power: physical and psychological. Each can be expressed either subtly or crudely. There are four types of power plays:


I. Crude physical,

II. Subtle physical,

III. Crude psychological, and

IV. Subtle psychological.

Physical Power Plays

I. Crude physical power plays are obvious to the naked eye and in ascending order of crudeness and physicality include throwing things, banging doors, shoving, hitting, or worse, imprisoning, kidnapping, torture, rape and murder. 

II. Subtle physical power plays are not as easily visible and more difficult to describe, than the crude physical power plays so far listed. However these control maneuvers still depend on physical means. When we are subjected to subtle power plays we may not be aware of what is being done to cause us to submit even if we have an awareness of being coerced in some way. Subtle physical power plays include such behavios as towering over or standing too close to people, standing in a prominent place in a room, sitting behind the protection of a desk, aggressive intonations of the voice, clenching of fists or jaw muscles, facial gestures such as rolling of the eyes or pursing the lips. These power plays are often used by men on women, who accept them as a matter of normal male behavior.

Psychological Power Plays

Crude physical power plays, while certainly all around us, will not be a common experience for most readers of this book. Most of the power plays we encounter in a middle to upper class population who reads (or writes) books are either subtle physical or psychological. 

Psychological power plays work because people are trained to obey from early childhood. Whether I motivate you to action by making you feel guilty, persuade you that what I want is the right thing to do or tell you a preposterous lie, if I can overcome your resistance without physical means, I have used a psychological power play. Even in the most violent environments, such as prisons or battlefields, people do not suffer primarily from direct physical oppression. Instead, their minds are controlled by the purely psychological threat of violence. In our society this is especially true in homes where women and children are physically abused and battered.

Psychological power plays are all around us in daily life. Some are crude, some are subtle. 

III. Crude psychological power plays include menacing tones and looks, insults, bald-faced lies, and blatant sulking. Also: interrupting, obviously ignoring, humming while others talk.

  IV. Subtle psychological power plays include clever lies, lies of omission, subtle sulking, sarcastic humor, gossip, false logic, ignoring what people say, and at a mass level, advertising and propaganda.

Power plays tend to escalate from the subtle to the crude and from psychological to physical. They are played in succession with the aim of winning and will escalate from subtle psychological to overt physical until one or the other player capitulates. Only very rarely, once the competitive flow begins, does one or both of the people stop and refuse to continue in that vein. Mark, for instance, went from subtle attempts to manipulate Joan, to yelling, clenching his fist and eventually he even considered rape-the crudest of sexual power plays. 


Let us now develop a classification of psychological power plays which I have divided into four families of related power maneuvers. 

1. All or Nothing, scarcity power plays

2. Intimidation power plays

3. Lying power plays

4. Passive Power plays

The following portion of this book will be devoted to these four families of psychological power plays, crude and subtle and how to deal with them. 


Chapter 6: ALL OR NOTHING; Scarcity Power Plays.  

Power Plays based on Scarcity

"All or Nothing" is played by bosses, workers, husbands, wives, parents, children and corporations, everywhere. It depends on the exploitation of peopleís fear of scarcity, of being in dire need, deprived of something they need badly. 

Love me or Leave me:

In relationships between men and women, "All or Nothing" is often played in the form of "Love Me or Leave Me," "Move In or Move On," and "Fish or Cut Bait" by a person who wants a serious commitment from another. This power play can be effective with men to when they are reluctant to get emotionally involved and is a method often used by women to obtain security by creating a scarcity of emotional warmth and sexuality. When men use it, they are often after sex and threatening to withdraw their physical presence and support. 

Take it or Leave it

"Take It or Leave It," "Now or Never," "You Are Either for Me or Against Me" are further variations of "All or Nothing."   

Spouse: "OK, let's get a separation, but if you leave this house, you aren't coming back." (If you leave now I'll take everything.) 

Employer: "If you can't be to work on Sunday, don't bother coming Monday." (Submit or lose your job.) 

Psychotherapist: "You are free to stop therapy anytime. This is your prerogative, but you realize, of course, that I have a waiting list; if you want to resume therapy later, you'll have to wait until your turn." (Stay in therapy or face the cruel world alone.) 

Lumber Company CEO: "If we can't cut all these redwoods, our workers will lose their jobs." (Give us the trees or we'll create an employment crisis.)

Manufacturing CEO: If you insist in starting a union weíll have to close down the plant and move it to China. (Accept lower pay or face unemployment)

Greed and Fear of Need. 

A complication of the problems caused by scarcity is greed. The world is full of people in fear of need; some have a great deal, and some have very little. Greed involves accumulating more than we need. Those who are afraid of need and accumulate in spite of having a great deal are seen as greedy. 

As an example, at a buffet, a person who is afraid of being left without enough to eat may swoop down on the table and fill his plate with heaping mounds of food. His intention is not necessarily to have more than other people or to wind up with a surplus. Rather, due to his fear of scarcity, while attempting to be sure to have enough, he may take far more than he can use. Once faced with a heaping plate, he may decide that he should eat it, perhaps so that he won't go hungry later. The fear of scarcity probably affects his eating all the time, causing him to take more than he requires, overeating and having to throw excess food away. He may eventually expect and "need" a surplus of food. His fears of scarcity may cause him to be greedy in other areas of his life as well. 

By contrast, a person who is not afraid of scarcity will take food from the table confident that there will be enough, eat it, and if he needs more, take a little more, and not exceed his need, nor accumulate an excess of food on his plate. He will probably not stuff himself, and his whole relationship to food will be one of satisfaction rather than greed even if, from time to time, he goes a bit hungry. 

Stroke Scarcity; The Stroke Economy

The law of supply and demand in economics states that the value of something is not only related to a person's need for it, but also to the relative scarcity of it.

Long ago, people discovered the advantages of gaining control over an easily available and needed item, and to withhold it from others. By creating an artificial scarcity of something that people want, no matter how freely available it may be to begin with, the person who controls that item is able to profit greatly. Artificial shortages have been produced for commodities such as gasoline, diamonds, metals, food, textiles, water, and in any number of other wares by creating monopolies which withdrew their availability from people. During those shortages, people buy and hoard these commodities even if they have to pay extremely high prices for them. The law of supply and demand is so powerful that anti-monopoly laws had to be passed to protect people from this type of exploitation by enterprising speculators.  The way scarcity and the law of supply and demand affects us applies not only commodities like gasoline, water, food or raw materials but also psychological necessities like human contact and affiliation. 

In Transactional Analysis we speak of human contact in terms of strokes. Eric Berne defined the stroke as the unit of social recognition. A positive stroke is the unit of human affection or love. A negative stroke is the unit of human aversion or hate. Both are forms of recognition. 

Babies need recognition or strokes to survive physically, and grown-ups, though they can survive physically without strokes, need them to maintain psychological health. Strokes are essential for survival and well-being. Research evidence overwhelmingly shows that people who have positive affiliations that provide them with strokes live longer, have less diseases and recover from disease more readily. In particular people are less likely to develop heart disease and more likely to survive and improve after a heart attack.  

Positive strokes could be freely available: except for limitations imposed by time or shortage of people, the supply of human recognition could be virtually limitless. Yet positive strokes are in scarcity because of an artificial economy which reduces their circulation and availability. 

Why is love, which should be freely available, actually so scarce? This is the result of a set of rules, which I call the "Stroke Economy," imposed on us from early childhood, which we adopt and pass on to our own children. These rules, which sharply restrict the exchange of positive strokes between people are (from now on I will refer to positive strokes as simply strokes): 

  Don't ask for strokes. 

  Don't give strokes.

  Don't accept strokes you want.

  Don't reject strokes you don't want.

  Don't give yourself strokes. 

These rules when followed, have the effect of sharply reducing positive human contact. Due to the pervasive obedience of the Stroke Economyís rules, very much needed affiliation and love has become scarce and therefore valuable, in the same way in which commodities such as food, land, or clean water are valuable. But water, food, and land are actually scarce since there just isn't enough for everybody who wants them, while strokes are only artificially scarce.  

Because of this artificial scarcity, people are willing to work long hours, pay money, engage in trade or barter, and go to great lengths to obtain the strokes they need. And when positive strokes are not available people are also willing to settle for negative strokes, which serve the purpose of providing stimulation and human recognition as well, though harmful and toxic. 

For example: Boris, in our previous example, is getting few strokes from Jill or at work. He misses positive human contact, and he spends quite a lot of money going to bars and drinking in order to relax and be able to have some fun with other bar patrons. He also tends to spend too much money on new clothes and drives an expensively priced car because he believes that it adds to his attractiveness. 

When he smokes, he pictures himself as a smooth criminal, Soprano style, which he imagines, makes him likable. All of this costs him more money than he can afford and keeps him working at a job he doesn't like. He even occasionally visits a massage parlor where he spends half a day's pay for a half-hour "local" massage and conversation with a prostitute. 

Boris and Jill fight often. Many of his fights with Jill start as attempts to get the strokes they both need in a roundabout way; they often get into games of "Uproar" that start as attempts to get affection and wind up producing hate.

All of these unpleasant outcomes are the consequence of Borisís (and Jillís) unsatisfied stroke hunger caused by an incapacity to obtain strokes in a direct and easy way. In my book Emotional Literacy; Intelligence with a Heart I outline a method with which people can learn to acquire positive strokes by countering the restrictions of the stroke economy. A person who is well supplied with strokes and is not under the pressure of stroke hunger is less likely to succumb to power plays based on fears of stroke scarcity.

Being Right; A Scarce Experience

Being right, not being proven wrong, having reason on oneís side, not having made a mistake, is another very strong need in people. Actually it is a form of stroke greed, the fear of not having enough. Often it doesn't even matter to the person what she is right about. What seems to matter is validation; that one's way prevails, is vindicated, is proven valid. The need for being proven right or being validated is, in fact, a derivative of the need for strokes. When we make a mistake or when we are wrong in a discussion the Critical Parent will barrage us with negative strokes if we admit being wrong; therefore we "stick to our guns," right or wrong. People often find themselves arguing for something even as they slowly realize that what they are arguing is incorrect. Still they can't stop, just because they took a position and to admit their mistake threatens a loss of positive strokes and an attack from the Critical Parent. This fear is so prevalent that it has become a way of life for some people: "Once having taken a position, it must be defended regardless of whether it is correct or not" because changing one's mind is a sign of weakness and indecision, a bad example for others who need to learn to be consistent. This is true in politics, business, family matters, in relationships and in child rearing.

Saving Face

When the powerful admit making a mistake it undermines their authority over those less powerful which they wish to dominate. Saving face is an aspect of the need to be right. The last years of the Vietnam War were fought in the effort to save our national face since by then it was the majority opinion that it was a meaningless war that could not be won. Our elected politicianís pride was the cause of tens of thousands of deaths and endless misery for both the US and Vietnam and some of those same politicians are still arguing the validity of that terrifying mistake. This in spite of the fact that Robert McNamara the architect of the Vietnam policy has recently admitted that he was wrong and that "it was all for nothing." A similar process is occurring today when the Bush administration is caught in an impossible situation in Iraq because it canít admit that it was wrong in asserting that Saddam Hussein possessed huge stores of weapons of mass destruction. Instead of accepting their error the Bush administration got into deeper and deeper trouble which in fact undermined its authority at least as much as admitting their error would have.

People will use power plays to acquire these artificially scarce "feeling commodities" (being right, love, recognition) in the same manner in which they power play to get the actually scarce commodities such as food, shelter, and money. These "feeling commodities" are only scarce because of the activities of the Critical Parent and can be liberated by creating cooperative communities of people in which the Critical Parent does not hold sway. In such cooperative communities power plays and critical transactions from the Critical Parent are disallowed strokes are plentiful and people are more interested in being truthful than in being right.


Chapter 7: How to Respond to Power Plays; Escalation, Antithesis or Cooperation?  

It is not sufficient to know the different power plays that people use. It is also important to know how to respond when we are power played in order to take care of ourselves.

Escalation. One can react to a power play with a bigger one. But countering a power play with another power play is a failing strategy of escalation in which each power play will be followed by an even bigger power play response. That can go on and on and will only end when one the players submits or gets killed.

Submission. Another response to power plays is to simply submit and go along with the other personís wishes. Clearly this also a failing strategy in the long run, though on occasion submission can avoid unnecessary confrontations. But no one will suggest submission as a valid response to power plays in the long run.

Antithesis: Instead, if we donít want to escalate or submit, we can use an antithesis; a tactical procedure that is used to neutralize (instead of escalating) a power play.  The antithesis is a form of verbal martial art which, like Aikido, teaches only defense and knows of no offensive moves. For "All or Nothing," power plays the effective antithesis is based on being able and willing to give up the commodity that is being made scarce. "I like your strokes, love, job, salary, security, but I don't need them that much" is the most effective way of stopping the "All or Nothing" power play. If said convincingly, it will have the effect of collapsing the power playing strategy and of clearing the ground for a cooperative negotiation over what is wanted. 

Having once said, "I don't need the car, money, your love, etc.," the situation is cleared for whatever reasonable give-and-take can occur, with neither of the two parties attempting to control the other person's decision.

The antithesis to "All or Nothing" is most effective when the scarcity is artificial-either psychological, as in the scarcity of strokes, or in the case of scarcity created by monopoly. This is because controlling our needs for the artificially scarce commodity will almost automatically make it more available. This has happened in the case of foods-especially foods with no nutritional value like sugar and coffee-where an effort by a cartel to drive the prices up was followed by a decrease in consumption and a consequent drop in price. It functions similarly where not needing strokes from any one person tends to deflate the "All or Nothing" power play and make strokes more available. 

Unfortunately, the antithesis may not work as well when certain important scarcities are concerned. That is because the proper antithesis is not a bluff (which is just a counter-power play) but a genuine detachment from what we once wanted and needed. It is hard to detach oneself from things like basic foods, shelter, and jobs, and when people power play us in these areas, we may need to fight back with power plays of our own if necessary to obtain our due. The mere existence of unions and other political power groups are effective in discouraging the "All or Nothing" power plays of corporations and other powerful institutions. By their implicit and real support of people's resistance, they reduce the fear of scarcity which causes people to let themselves be manipulated. 

When the "All or Nothing" becomes "All or Death" as it does in certain dictatorships like Hitler's Stalinís or Saddam Husseinís, where not to go along completely means almost certain imprisonment and probable death, the antithesis becomes very difficult since it requires not caring about remaining alive ("I like to live, but I don't need to"). 

A Case Example:

To further illustrate the distinction between a retaliatory power play, which only prolongs the competitive situation, and an antithesis, let's say that you have found a car that you like at a used-car lot. A salesman has noticed your interest. You've asked how much the car sells for, and he's given you the price of $13,700. You have said that you like the car but the price is too high, and that you would like to buy the car for less, so you'll try other lots. 

The salesman responds with an All or Nothing (A/N) power play: "Well, I think it is a fine idea that you should go and check other prices, but I want you to know that there is a lady who just went home to see if she could get the money together to buy the car ("Buy now or it will be gone later"). But feel free to shop around. If we sell this one there will be others." 

Let's say that you are impervious to this power play; you see right through it. You now have two choices. One is to power-play the salesman back and say, "Well, certainly if there's someone who wants to buy the car, it seems to me she should get it, so I guess I won't bother coming back." You are turning the tables on the salesman and escalating with his own medicine, another A/N power play.

The other alternative is to respond with an antithesis by ignoring his move, smiling and saying, "Well. I'll take my chances ("I like the car, but I can live without it"). I think I will go and shop around and see what else is available. I might be back and if she doesn't buy it I might still be interested. Thank you for your help." 

I am not predicting which of these two approaches will get you a cheaper price for the car. It could well be that turning the tables and power-playing the salesman will be effective, although I think it is generally foolish to think that an amateur like you could ever get the upper hand on a professional. It's more likely that he will use a series of sub-maneuvers which you will not be aware of and that, in the end, he will power-play you into paying a larger price than you needed to pay. I'm using this example only to contrast the two alternatives that people have when they are power played: the competitive escalating countermove which, in effect, continues the war or the antithesis, which is a neutralization of the power play. 

The question always comes back: When is it legitimate to "go to war"-to power-play back? Some pure pacifists will say, "Never!" Others will say that in order to fight aggression, war is justified. My own preference is to avoid war as long as any antithesis will work. In most situations, power plays can be neutralized: the decision to "go to war" even in a used-car lot is a serious one and should be made with solemn reflection. Fortunately, in most situations for most of us, the choice is not necessary. Knowing power plays and their antitheses can go a long way to get us what is our due. I prefer to study power and its abuses and to develop nonviolent methods of dealing with it, while hoping that no one will escalate their efforts to control me or those I love to the point that war is necessary. Above all, I like to approach every situation in a peaceful and cooperative manner, rather than on a competitive, warlike footing: in the end, I have noticed, I get more of what I want that way and so does everybody else. Marshall Rosenberg's excellent book: Nonviolent Communication; A Language of Compassion  explores the nonviolent approach to conflict for people who want to pursue it in detail. In fact the Action/Feeling statement that, as we will see later, is an essential aspect of the cooperative approach has its roots in Rosenbergís work. 

Still when our competitor has ruthlessly determined to take everything at all costs, war is the only response that will work to keep what is ours. 

The Cooperative Solution 

The cooperative solution to a competitive situation requires more commitment and creativity than either escalation or antithesis. It goes beyond self-defense, but seeks to find a common ground of need which both parties can satisfy. That common ground may or may not be possible to find. In a zero-sum game, for instance, no such common ground exists. A zero-sum situation, by definition, is a situation where, if I win you must lose or vice versa; what I win (or lose) added to what you lose (or win) always is equal to a big fat zero. For example: If I bet you $5 and you win, my gain (+$5) and your loss (-$5) added together equal zero. Such situations exist in real life, but not as often as we have been led to believe. For instance, if there are two of us in an airplane and only one parachute, it is reasonable to say that in the event of having to bail out, I lose if you win. Still, I could win by letting you have the chute, being a hero, and getting a posthumous reward which will help my family survive. And you could win by being alive-or lose by feeling guilty for the rest of your life. It all depends on what is being added up, won or lost. 

If all that is at stake is money, then every situation will be zero-sum, which is why in a money-minded society we tend to see everything in that light. But money is seldom all that is at stake between most people even in commercial transactions where as in any other area of human need, your gain need not be my loss. 

For instance, in the case of the car salesman above, money is probably the bottom line. You are buying the car as is: no guarantee, no frills. Your success in paying less is the salesman's failure to make more. Period. But let's say you are selling the car to a neighbor. You want to be able to face that person, borrow a cup of sugar or even the car at some time. In the future, you might trade or sell him something else, and you want a neighborly feeling to prevail between you. You want to be fair and enjoy the good feeling that comes from acting in a principled way. 

The exact amount changing hands is not all there is to his transaction. If a fair deal is made, you both win because he now has a good car, you have a tidy sum of money, and you have each other's esteem as well. Mutual esteem can generate future gifts, favors, exchanges and barters which are worth, even if only money is counted, a great deal more than the few extra dollars you might power-play out of your neighbor. Of course the same is true theoretically with a car lot salesman but not very likely.

Given this cooperative attitude, what is the response to an "All or Nothing" power play? 

Lets say you are selling your car and have asked for $4,000.

Neighbor: Iíll give you $2,400-take it or leave it." (All or Nothing) 

You can escalate: "I am not going to waste my time with absurd offers. Let me know when you are ready to pay what I ask. This car is worth $5,000 at a car lot" (escalation, with a lie). 

Or you can use an antithesis: "Well. that's OK. I'll pass. let me know if you change your mind." 

Or you can pave the way to cooperation: "Look, I think you want this car and I would like to be done with it. Lets negotiate. If you are worried that it will break down I'll agree to share the cost of an inspection with you and then lets settle between $4,000 and $2,400. What do you say?

Notice that the latter response doesn't accept the power play and proceeds to seek a cooperative dialogue without the pressures and fears of scarcity. 

A further example:

The cooperative response shifts from the Control mode to the Cooperative mode; it's neither a defensive nor offensive maneuver. The power player is seen as a potential ally with whom we want to cooperate. Example: 

Landlord (power move): "You owe me two months' rent. If you don't pay, you'll be evicted." 

Tenant response (acquiescence): "I'll get my check-book." 

Or, tenant response (escalation): "Go ahead. If you try to evict me, I won't pay anyway. I'll take you for six months, and when I move, I'll mess up your house, too." 

The stimulus is a power move: the response is a power countermove, which may successfully intimidate the land-lord into submission. 

Landlord response (acquiescence): "Well, just make sure you pay soon.... " 

Or the landlord can escalate again: 

Landlord response (escalation): "Is that right? Don't be walking any dark alleys if you do.... " 

The antithesis, rather than the power counter move, to the original stimulus might go like this: 

Landlord (power move): "If you don't pay, you'll be evicted." 

Tenant response (antithesis): "I'm not worried about being evicted. I'll have the money next Monday." 

Or, tenant response (cooperative): "No need to talk of eviction. I want to pay the rent, but haven't got the money right now. Can you wait until Monday? I'll have the money then, and if you want, I'll pay you interest for my back rent."

This response is neither a submission to the power move nor an escalation. It takes the transaction out of the competition/control mode and into a cooperative mode. 

Acquiescence and escalation are both competitive responses which reinforce and perpetuate the Control-power mode of transacting. The antithesis is a self-defensive response which remains in the Control mode because the power player is still seen as an antagonist. 

Power Parity 

Whether escalation, antithesis, or cooperative response, a power play cannot be stopped without the application of equal power to oppose it. Escalation requires an actual increase in energy. Louder voice, stronger sarcasm. more elaborate maneuver. Antithesis is like a brick wall: it has to stand up under the impact of the power play, though it is not required to push it back. The force of the antithesis is gauged to be precisely enough to stop the power play. If the antithesis is not strong enough, the wall will crumble and the antithesis won't work. If it's too strong, it becomes an escalation. The cooperative solution's power also must match the power play's power. It is an application of power of a different kind: The Other Side of Power. Against the impact of intimidation it uses disobedience, gentleness, loving confrontation, emotional literacy, grounding, communication, transcendence, wisdom, and cooperation, all of which are powerful faculties which used together can defuse the most intense power plays. 

Without power parity, trying to stop a power play is like trying to stop a rolling truck: so it is important to know your own power resources when dealing with power plays. Sometimes any one person is just not able to handle certain power plays: in those cases the power of numbers may be the only solution. 


Chapter 8.

A Closer Look

Before investigating the next family of Control power plays -Intimidation-it might be useful to define power plays more rigorously. 

Definition. A power play is a conscious transaction or series of transactions in which one person attempts to:

1. cause another person to do something he or she does not want to do or

2. prevent another person from doing something she or he wants to do. 

All power plays are a transaction or series of transactions. A transaction is defined as the unit of social intercourse. I use the word "transaction," which comes from Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis, because power plays are social events and, I believe, no current social-psychological theory is better suited for the simple analysis of the moment-by-moment interactions between people than transactional analysis.

All power plays can be analyzed in terms of these specific, discrete, interpersonal events called transactions. Every transaction consists of a stimulus and a response. The initial stimulus of the power play is called the "control move" and is the opening gambit in the attempt by a person to exercise control over another.

A power play is an attempt by one person to control another.

Consider the following example: 

Boris: "Let's go to the movies." 

Jill: "I'd rather go dancing." 

Boris: "Well, I want to go to the movies. Perhaps I should go alone." 

 Borisís last transaction could be a control move, the opening gambit of a power play. Lets assume that Boris knows that Jill is afraid of staying home alone, and that he hopes that her fear will persuade her to go to the movies with him. He is trying to control her behavior, a definite power move. 

Suppose Jill responds as follows: 

Jill: "OK. Iíll go dancing with Jane and stay with her overnight." 

This sounds like Jillís escalation to Borisís power play but it may not be. Let us assume that Jill's intent is only to protect herself from Boris's control, not to control him back. If so, her behavior is not a power play but an antithesis. 

When she says she will stay overnight with Jane, she could be going beyond self-defense by trying to scare Boris out of his power play because she knows he hates to sleep alone. That would be an active escalation rather than an antithesis. 

Let's say that Jill reacts by bursting into tears and says: "O.K. Iím going to bed. Have a good time." Power play or antithesis? It looks like a power move in which Jill is trying to arouse guilt in Boris by her tears and sadness. On the other hand she may be taking care of herself letting out her feelings, and going to bed to get a good night's sleep. 

A power play is a conscious transaction. The maneuvers we use to coerce others to do what they would not otherwise do are conscious on our part. Sometimes we are so used to getting what we want through the use of power plays that we stop paying close attention to our behavior. People in positions of power are often so singularly successful in getting their way that power plays become second nature to them. The fact that power playing is habitual to a person doesn't mean that they're not aware or capable of being aware of the controlling intentions of their transactions. I emphasize the conscious intent of a person in the definition of power plays because in many instances it is not possible to tell whether a transactional stimulus is a power move just by looking at it. A transactional stimulus is a control move only if it is intended to coerce another person. 

Going back to the original transactions:

Boris: "Let's go to the movies." 

Jill: "I'd rather go dancing." 

Boris: "Well, I want to go to the movies. Perhaps I should go alone." 

Unless we know the intent of Boris's last statement, we really don't know whether it is the beginning of a power play, although it sounds that way. Boris may be trying to coerce or power play Jill into coming to the movies with him with an "All or Nothing" maneuver ("We go to the movies or you are on your own.") On the other hand perhaps he is willing to let her have the option to come or not, while he simply follows his preference. This would not be a power play even if Jill feels power-played and responds as if she had been coerced. This is a very important distinction. 

Jill will probably find out what Boris's intentions are if she accepts his suggestion. 

Jill: "OK, go ahead. I think I'll go dancing with Jane." 

If Boris accepts this alternative graciously and without resentment, then his initial transaction ("Perhaps I should go alone") probably was not a control move. If it was a control move, he failed in his purpose and he will undoubtedly resent her response, which was a skillful antithesis of his attempt to control her. 

Again, what is overt and obvious is not of much help in learning what Boris's intentions are. Boris may not show any sign of displeasure and may go off to the movies alone. It may take him days or months before the resentment against her antithesis surfaces. In fact, it may never surface. So, except in the case of very gross power behavior, we can never know for sure whether a certain move was part of a power play. The only way we can be sure what Borisís intentions were is if Boris is willing to be honest about them and tells us and we believe him.

The fact that, in situations like this, we often can't tell the real intention of another person's moves is important. For instance, Boris may be convinced that Jill's proposal to go dancing with Jane is a power play, so he may respond as follows: 

"That's a power play. Don't try that with me." 

However, he really doesn't know whether her response was an escalation to his power play, or whether it was just a creative, cooperative solution to a difficult situation. In addition Boris has to be aware that she is responding to his offer to go alone and that she could reasonably see that as a control move that started this series of potentially unpleasant transactions. I does look like this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black; unless they both want to sit down and carefully analyze each statement from the beginning, there is no possible value to his accusation. He might say: 

Boris: "That makes me angry. Can we talk about what is going on here? I am afraid that we are getting into a fight." 

When trying to understand other people's behavior toward us, we can make two kinds of mistakes. The first, "Pollyanna," is to think that we're not being power-played when in fact we are. The second kind of mistake, "Paranoia," is to think we're power-played when we're not. Most people tend to be oblivious to the ways in which they are being power-played, though they may become aware that something is amiss.

When power plays are common everyday events in people's transactions, life can be very confusing indeed. Genuine, open interaction is constantly clouded by covert, subtle deception and manipulation. Later in this book I will discuss how paranoia is dealt with constructively in cooperative relationships. 

Boris's last statement would be a good beginning for an honest, cooperative discussion of just what is going on, but unless a discussion of this sort follows, Boris's only choice is to stick to what he wants without trying to control what Jill does. 

To repeat: a power play is a conscious act and needs to be distinguished from an act that seems to be a control move but because it is not intended to be controlling is not really a power play. 

This discussion may leave you puzzled. How will you ever know whether you are being power-played by another person? The answer is that you only know for absolutely sure if the person admits it. But more importantly, it doesn't really matter. What is really important is that you are not made to do what you don't want to do, whether you are being power-played or not. If you suspect that you are being power-played, give the other person the benefit of the doubt and follow your own counsel. It will eventually become obvious what his or her intention was.

Without the test of time, the only way to know is to ask the person who we think is power playing us and be able to trust their answer. That is why it is so important to establish cooperative relationships in our relationships. Only then can we can trust that people will be interested in living a life free of power plays and be truthful about their feelings and inner motives.




Power Plays depend for their success on peopleís fears. Scarcity power plays manipulate peopleís fears of scarcity. Intimidation power plays manipulate peopleís fears of violence.

Intimidation, illustrates the range that power plays can have from subtle to crude and from psychological to physical. In the crude physical side intimidation thrives on people's fear of raw violence. On the subtle side, it exploits people's fear of emotional violence; denigration, insult, criticism. 

On the most physical and crude end intimidation can take the form of the "Fist in the Face" which occurs frequently among poor and working-class people-especially from men to women and also between men. It is a common threat in the lives of women in the form of rape. It is a constant potential threat to all women relating to men in the form of wife-beating and in the lives of children in the form of corporal punishment. Certainly, it is part of our past--intimidation through force, torture, rape, kidnapping, beatings, mass imprisonment and mass murder, all part of our ancestral history, and some will say, of our current life the veneer of civilization is very thin and we find ourselves intimidating others when we get what we want through fast, loud talk, fueled by anger and if we want it badly enough, punctuated by subtle insults or using veiled threats.

Conversational Intimidation

We pride ourselves on being civilized human beings and would not, under normal circumstances, try to achieve our purposes by threatening a person with violence. In fact, most of us exercise control over others through far more subtle means. The following section will be devoted to the subtle ways in which we control others, and others control us, in our conversations. I will name the power plays and provide antitheses and cooperative alternative when I have discovered one.



The use of the metaphor as a power play is of special interest because it is the most refined and subtle form of verbal intimidation. A metaphor is the use of a word in place of another in order to suggest a likeness between them. For instance, if I want to accurately portray the feeling of a beautiful spring day I might say something like "The sun felt like a warm loving hand that lifted me above the ground, my eyes closed, suspended by the breeze." 

The sun is not a hand and it did not lift me above the ground but these words somehow convey a feeling that I had and did it well enough so that someone else in reading it might get a similar feeling and understand mine. Metaphors can be used to illustrate and make clear, with a few words, a complicated feeling or to describe a complex image. When used for non-controlling purposes metaphors are poetry. But metaphors can also be used in power behavior to intimidate people. 

For instance, Sally is a fifteen-year-old teen-ager who has a crush on Burt. Sally's father doesn't like Burt. He says. "Burt is a nice enough boy, but he reminds me of a wet dishrag. He has no guts." This metaphor is intended to denigrate Burt in Sally's eyes, and deflate her interest in him. If Sally is still listening to her father at all it will succeed in undercutting her appreciation of Burt even if she overtly protests against it. 

Alex and Mary are married. Frances, an old friend of Alex's, of whom Mary is very jealous, comes into town and wants to have a coffee date with Alex. Mary is very upset. She says. "How can you possibly consider seeing Frances? Are you trying to break my heart? If you really loved me, you would never consider knifing me in the back like this." These metaphors (broken heart, knife in the back) are intended to intimidate Alex by making him guilty, so that he'll change his plans to see Frances. 

The use of the metaphor needs to be carefully examined by those who wish to exclude control behavior from their lives. Metaphors are fine linguistic devices when used to affirm or describe our positive and negative feelings. But they should be used with care in the description of people and their actions, especially if we are angry at them, because it is then that we are able to use metaphors to intimidate, rather than just describe our experience. Because they are so subtle, metaphors work below the level of consciousness so that people are affected without really knowing why. After being told that he is a backstabber and heartbreaker Alex feels guilty, angry and confused and he may well decide not to see his friend. Or he may retaliate with some metaphors of his own calling Mary a "bitch,"or a "ball breaker." One of the dangers of the use of metaphors as power plays is that they are so devious and they are likely to provoke uproar and escalation. 

Negative metaphors work because they are an assault on a person's self-esteem. If the person is shaky in his confidence about the validity of his actions and about his worth, he will be flooded by emotions of guilt and doubt which will intimidate him into going along with the power play. 

Antithesis. The antithesis to metaphor is rather simple; take the metaphor literally and challenge it. 

"Dad, Burt doesn't look like a dishrag to me, nor is he usually wet. I am sure that he has as many yards of guts as you do, give or take a few." Or: 

"Look, Mary, I see no knife in your back. I also don't believe your heart is broken. What are you trying to say to me?" 

Taking the metaphor literally and pointing out its inaccuracy is an elegant and efficient way of dealing with it. That way it is possible to ignore the subtle manipulation involved, thereby deflecting the power move involved. The trick is to detect and be able to pick apart the metaphor because it is usually very subtle and not readily visible. 

For example, just by substituting one word for another, a certain amount of intimidation can occur. 

"Alexei, your room needs to be cleaned. Please pick up all your crap before Aunt Teresa comes this weekend." 

This very reasonable-sounding statement includes one lone metaphor. The word "crap" has been used to replace "things" or "toys and clothes." It may sound innocent enough, but it denigrates Alexei's things, his room, and Alexei himself. It is intended to get him to clean up by the use of a word heavily laden with anger and judgment. Alexei's proper antithesis would be:

"Crap? I don't see any crap. All I see are dirty clothes and my things." 

Thought Stoppers.

Intimidation often occurs in the course of conversations in the form of interruption, talking fast, raising voices, clipped inflections, gesturing, yelling, using strong words or insults. All of these power plays separately or together can be used for the purpose of controlling conversations and their outcomes and they work by disrupting the victim's thinking. Thought stoppers are especially effective because they disarm the victimís Adult leaving him unable to think and respond adequately.

Antithesis: People who are accustomed to being in control will use these devices habitually, and they become second nature. This makes it difficult to stop them even if they have previously agreed to do so. Often these behaviors are so automatic that the power player will sincerely question the extent and frequency with which she makes use of them. 

In any case, the antithesis is to nip the power play in the bud. This presents two difficulties. First, catching the power play as it is being used. Second, returning to the conversation without losing its thread. Both are hard because the power play, if effective, will "short circuit" the victim's thinking capacities.

"You interrupted me. Please let me finish. Now where was I? Oh, yes..."

Or "You are beginning to talk too fast for me to follow. Would you mind slowing down? Go ahead, I'm listening... " 

Or "Please don't raise your voice. I can hear you perfectly well." 

Or "The way you're talking is making me very tense. Are you angry? Please relax-you don't need to emphasize what you say quite as much. I'm getting the point." 

Or "Your gestures are distracting me. Please try just to say what it is you want to say without using your arms (or pacing around, or jabbing your finger in my chest). 

Or "Don't yell. I'm not willing to talk to you if you are going to yell at me." 

Or "You said I always make a mess and I never clean it up. That is a little strong, don't you think? Please don't exaggerate." 

Or "I will not have you call me names. I am not an idiot and won't continue this conversation if you don't stop your insults." 

Or "You can't pound the table (punch the wall, kick the dog, slam the door) if you expect to talk to me. I won't tolerate it one more time. Please stop and speak to me without all this violence (noise, commotion)." 

Cooperative Response: Keeping in mind the formula of (a) self-disclosure of feelings generated by power play; (b) description of behavior involved in the power play; (c) cooperative proposal, let me give an abbreviated example: 

(a) "Damn! I am really angry right now. (b) Do you realize that you cut me off in the middle of my sentence? (a) My train of thought was completely interrupted and I'm furious. (b) You do this to me a lot and I have allowed you to do it. (c) I don't want to do it anymore. Can we figure out some way of stopping it?" 

Of course this monologue would not work as is. Chances are that the power player will interrupt, talk fast, gesture, and even bang on the table in the process of establishing a cooperative mode of conversation. The ins and outs of working out a satisfactory outcome will be covered in Chapter 12. 


This is an effective, guilt-provoking power play. The power move consists of feigning shocked disbelief about a personís intentions. 

"You don't really believe that, do you, Alex?" 

"Kathy, you don't actually plan to take the car tonight, do you?" 

"You didn't actually ask your sister, her three children, and the German shepherds to stay for the weekend, did you, Pat?" 

The aim of the power play of course is to get Alex to disown his beliefs, Kathy to give up the car, or Pat to disinvite her sister. 

Antithesis: The antithesis of "Yougottobekidding" is to assert oneís intentions and simply say: "Yes, I believe that," "Yes, I am planning on taking the car tonight," and "Thatís right, I invited my sister, just as you said," thereby refusing to respond with guilt or by backing out. 

Cooperative Response: " My first reaction to what you just said was to feel guilty but as I think about it, it makes me angry that you seem so amazed. The way you said that it seems that you find what I am doing unbelievable for some reason. In fact that is what I believe (or plan to do). If you don't like it, I would like to know why and we can talk about what I can do to deal with your displeasure." 


Logic is a powerful tool for the search after truth. Given truthful premises, any conclusion that is reached through the appropriate use of logic will be truthful as well. Because of the prestige that logic holds in the minds of people, it can be used to intimidate them. 

Logic can be used as a power play by presenting false premises and following appropriate logical rules, or by presenting true premises and using fallacious logic, or by using false premises and false logic. 

If you canít prove it you canít do it. 

An effective logic power plays is to discredit someone else's premises or sources.

Mr. and Ms. Smith are planning to go on vacation. Mr. Smith wants to go to the lake and Ms. Smith wants to go to the mountains. 

We approach them as they are debating where to go. 

Mr. S.: "Going to the mountain doesn't make any sense. Why shouldn't we go to the lake?" (This is an invitation for Ms. Smith to prove that going to the mountain is a better choice. If Ms. Smith falls for it, she will try to prove her point-which of course cannot be proven by any logical means since it is simply a matter of preference.) 

Ms. S.: "The mountain is better. It's cheaper, it's healthier, it's more fun." 

Mr. S.: "That's totally illogical. First of all, it's farther away, and it costs more to get there. Second of all, there are much better opportunities to exercise at the lake, so it's not healthier. Third, there are many more people and more activities to do by the lake, so it's not even more fun. Therefore, the mountain is not really better. So we'll go to the lake-right?" 

Ms. S.: "Well, I guess so... " 

Notice the orderly-though illogical-refutation of arguments, followed by a "therefore" just prior to a false conclusion. Because of the orderly approach (First, Second, and Third) and the language of logic, this sounds like a valid argument that refutes her position; the argument sounds vaguely like the arguments we all learned in high schools, "A is bigger than B, B is bigger than C, so A is bigger than C" and the use of the word "therefore" or "so" especially gives the impression that one has just engaged in a logic-tight argument. The problem is: First, that Mr. S's argument does not account for the fact that the hotel at the lake costs twice as much as at the mountains. Second, there are as many opportunities at the mountains for exercise, though perhaps not as many chances to exercise one's beer-drinking elbow. Third, obviously Mr. S. has a different idea of fun than Ms. S. so his arguments don't hold any logical water. Right? 

Mr. Smith has overwhelmed Ms. Smith with a series of logical-sounding fallacies, which include the use of the Socratic method, where the mentor patiently leads the student through a series of logical steps to the final, correct conclusion. 

One effective device for finishing off a false Socratic argument is to punctuate the end of a string of fallacies with the question, "Right?" which causes the confused student to automatically respond to it by agreeing. This last maneuver is similar to the maneuver used in "Yougottobekidding" where the person is lead to say "Wrong" instead of "Right" in response to the power play. 

Antithesis: The antithesis to such logic power plays is to question the validity of the logic involved and to refuse to prove the validity of one's preferences, beliefs or actions. 

Example: To the preceding statement by Mr. Smith, Ms. Smith could answer: "Wrong! What you say makes no logical sense, and so your conclusion is incorrect." She could then try to pick through every fallacy in his argument. But a much better way to deal with the power play would be to proceed to refuse the invitation to be logical at all.

A preference is a preference. No proof of a preference is needed. Ms. Smith wants to go to the mountains. That's all there is to it. The question here is not whether or not she can prove that this is the correct thing to do. The question is simply: does she have the right to want something different from that which Mr. Smith wants. If she has that right, then she does not need to prove the validity of her desires. 

Cooperative Response. "Your attempt to use logic in this situation confuses me. I am not sure your logic is better than mine. We have a disagreement here, and if we can agree that we both have the right to our preferences, than maybe we can use our Adults to figure out a creative, cooperative solution to our disagreement."

"I have been thinking that going to the seashore might be a good idea-there will be people there for you to hang out with and I can get a little solitude and it won't be as expensive as the lake. What do you think?" 

Discrediting sources 

The invalidation of another person's point of view by discrediting the premises on which the point of view is based is another logic power play. Let's say that Mr. Smith is getting concerned with how much sugar the children are eating. He has read that refined sugar is harmful to children's health. Ms. Smith claims that the only thing that's wrong with sugar is that it causes cavities, so it is sufficient that the children brush their teeth after every meal. Mr. Smith insists. "Well. I've read that refined sugar is really very bad for you. It's supposed to be addictive, and it causes a whole lot of problems with your metabolism∑ Plus, it is completely useless as food. I'd like to cut it out of our diet." 

Ms. Smith: "You're just reading too much of that conservationist garbage. They're just a bunch of enviro-trouble-makers who are dissatisfied with the American Way of Life." (By discrediting the sources of Mr. Smith's premises, Ms. Smith invalidates his argument and can ignore his wishes that she feed the children less sugar.) 

Antithesis: All sources can be discredited. Arguably, scientists cheat in their research, corporations and advertisers lie and the government is made up of the best politicians money can buy. 

So, what sources one believes is again a matter of preference. Therefore, the antithesis to this type of power play, again, is to point out that we are entitled to our beliefs regardless of what anyone else might think. 

"Well, you are entitled to your opinion but I believe too much sugar is a health hazard and I agree with anyone who wants to do something about how much sugar people eat." 


Another way in which logic can be used to overpower others is redefinition. For instance, Alexei wants to stay out past midnight. 

Alexei: "Please, Dad. I worked hard all weekend, and I want to go out and have fun with my friends. They're going to the movies, and then we want to go out and eat. I don't want to have to come back before we are all through." 

Mr. Smith: "I want you to come home before midnight. You have to go to school tomorrow." 

Alexei: "Please. Dad! This is really important to me ... will you let me stay out?"

Mr. Smith: "The trouble with you is that you're a disobedient troublemaker. Just because you are working part time, you think you can have anything you want around here! I'm not going to let my son call the shots in this house. I'm still your father, and don't you forget it!"

Alexei (deeply hurt and upset): "That's not true. I try to do what you ask. The trouble is you are never satisfied. You're the boss all right. You're a fascist!"

Notice that the father has shifted the discussion from one in which Alexei is asking for something to a discussion about obedience, insubordination, and who's the boss, thereby redefining the situation, while throwing in some shouting, gesturing, fast talk, and a few insults for good measure. All Alexei can do now is defend himself from his father's accusations. Meanwhile, his wishes have been completely sidetracked, and he has been provoked into an escalation (insult), which is the purpose of his father's power play, since he can now legitimately refuse anything that Alexei wants.

Redefinition is a power play in which a person refuses to accept the premises of another. Which premises are being used in a discussion is a very important issue, since who defines the premises of a discussion can probably control its outcome. Doctors, parents, teachers, psychotherapists, politicians, and judges usually assume the validity of their premises and assume that everyone else will accept them.  When someone refuses to go along, then they are called  "rebellious," "insubordinate," "illogical," "hysterical," or  "crazy." Redefinition is often a valid refusal to go along with another person's controlling premises. In a discussion between equals, it is important that the premises for the  discussion be the same, and that neither of the two feel free  to change the premises without agreement from the other. 

Another example:

Alexei and Susan want to use the family car that evening.

Alexei: "I need the car to go to school." 

Susan: "Well, I need the car to go to my women's meeting." 

Alexei: "You had the car last time, so I am next. Why should you have it?" 

Susan: "We're not discussing who had the car last. We're discussing what is more important, and everybody knows that my meeting is more important than your school. Just ask Mom." (Susan redefines Alexei's premise "Itís my turn," to "The car will be used for the more important activity.") This is very blatant example of redefinition, in which Susan changes the premises of the discussion to suit her need, expecting to get support from her mother about the importance of the meeting.


Redefinition is a very subtle power play. Even more than most of the logic power plays, it tends to "blow people's minds" that is, to temporarily disorganize their thinking and leave them speechless and powerless. Once it is clear that there is a redefinition power play being used, the antithesis consists of insisting on one's premises. 

"We never said anything about what is more important. The agreement is that we alternate who gets the car. You had it last time, so I get it next." 

Cooperative Response: The cooperative responses for most of the logic power plays are similar to each other. Nevertheless, let me provide one for redefinition. Even though it will seem repetitive, I want to emphasize the importance of this alternative. 

"Look, Susan, what you are doing confuses me and makes me angry. You are changing the rules of the game to suit your needs. Our agreement is to alternate who gets the car. If you want to change the rules, we can talk about it. If this is an extra-important meeting, maybe we can negotiate your getting the car this once. But you can't just change the rules. What do you want to do?"

Power Spots

Many subtle power plays do not rely so much on conversational tricks but on physical manipulation. Michael Korda, in his book Power! lets us in on a variety of subtle intimidation power plays, especially those in which people through their physical behavior, clothing, positioning in rooms and offices, manage to cause themselves to loom larger and more intimidating than they are. 

If you want to gain some form of control over another person through intimidation, Korda recommends, sit with your back to a large picture window so that your victim has to look into the glare and can't really see your face, while his face is clearly visible to you. At a business lunch, invade your victim's side of the table with your personal possessions or arrive thirty minutes late to appointments. Answer your phone while in the middle of an important conversation, or have people call you on your radiotelephone in your limousine. 

In fact, Korda's description of the power games that are played with telephones will give you the most vivid understanding of his grasp of the kinds of maneuvers which people use to intimidate others-ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. 

Korda makes a great deal-and rightly so-out of the relationship between positioning and power. He observes that there are certain places which, when occupied by people, will give them additional Control power over the events around them. These places, which can be called "power spots," take advantage of people's tendencies to be intimidated and cowed. It is easier to intimidate people if you are physically above them, if you are sitting behind the protection of a desk or some other large object, if you are out of the direct line of vision or cannot be easily seen, if you can see more than they can, or if you are surrounded and protected by people who will support you and will come to your defense. 

The power spot is effective as a means of control, especially because it is virtually impossible to prove that a person is deliberately positioning herself in a way that is designed to achieve control. Nevertheless, it can be observed easily that certain people will gravitate and secure for themselves positions of Control in almost every situation in which they participate. People who are masters at the use of the power spot for Control purposes will go further and take a controlling "power spot" only when they recognize that they will need to exercise Control and leave those power spots to others when control issues are not of importance. Any gathering of people will have power spots. Power spots are the locations from which a person will be best seen and heard by the largest number of people. At a party, Korda points out, a power spot is the place everybody will, sooner or later gravitate to. You need only stand on that spot to meet everyone. 

It helps if the visual and acoustic arrangements of the spot conspire to make it powerful as well. Standing in a corner next to a dramatic sculpture is more powerful than sitting in the middle of the room. In the corner the lines of the floor, ceiling, and walls meet where you are standing. This, together with the sculpture, will almost force people's eyes in your direction. At a meeting around a long table, the head is obviously the power spot. Why? Because from it, unlike any other point on the table, you can see and hear everybody at once. That is why round tables or a circle seating arrangement are more egalitarian methods of meeting: they have no obvious power spots built into the seating scheme and are preferred in cooperative situations. 

It is an interesting exercise in control-power awareness to observe the positioning behavior of people. One way to do that is to evaluate any situation and make a determination of where the power spots are and after having done that see who the people are who occupy them. Conversely, it is possible to determine where the power spots are by seeing where controlling people position themselves. You can check your perceptions about who is in power and what the power spots are by doing these things independently and cross-checking the results. In any case, it is important to be aware of when and how people use positioning as an attempt to control and manipulate. 

Antithesis: Antitheses to positioning power plays are as varied as the different types of positioning maneuvers that exist. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that positioning power plays can only be neutralized through actual changes in position. In fact, it is a feature of power plays that they can only be neutralized with power parity: with an application of power that matches the power of the power play itself. 

Returning now to the power spot: when someone has taken a spot, which by its position gives him a measure of control over you, you will be immediately at a disadvantage unless you somehow manage to find a position for yourself which neutralizes his ascendancy. You may try to equalize power through other means, but you still will be at a certain disadvantage because regardless of what you do the other person still has the power spot. 

The most effective antithesis to positioning power plays is to ask that the positions occupied by people be changed in some way. If someone is sitting behind a desk, you might ask her whether she will come out in front of it. If someone maneuvers you into their private space when you know an important decision is to be made, it might be possible to ask him to meet you on neutral grounds. This can be done by saying that you are uncomfortable under the particular circumstances and would like to change them. Being totally overt about a maneuver which is so subtle is very disarming. The power player is put in a position of either agreeing with the request or fabricating some reason for not doing so. 

"Would you mind meeting at the restaurant instead of your office?" 

"That would be okay, but I'd like to be able to answer the phone. I'm expecting an important call." 

"Oh, okay. Why don't we meet at the Black Hat? They have phone extensions in the booths." 

"That would be fine, but those booths are very uncomfortable on my back. My chair at my desk is the best for me."

"Yes, but your office intimidates me. Let's meet at the Spearmint Lounge. They have really comfortable chairs and phones as well." 

"Well, all right." 

Of course, in situations in which hierarchies are very strict and taken for granted, this kind of a request will be considered an audacious insult; but in many instances, such requests will work. When such antitheses cannot be used, a person is at a definite disadvantage. She can then use more subtle means, such as standing up, or bringing a chair behind the desk, thereby not being bound by the assigned places. At gatherings, it is possible to ask to trade places with other people, and even to take the power spot oneself by getting there first or to move into it when the person leaves it temporarily. 

Men have a built-in positioning advantage, their size, over most women which women have to deal with all the time. It is therefore a good idea for women, as a rule, when concerned about their power with respect to a man, to relate in a sitting position. Accordingly, men who want to relate on an equal power basis with women will be conscious of their height and sit down or in some way voluntarily diminish it. The same is true between grown-ups and children and between certain races (e.g. white and Asiatic). In all of these relationships, the person with the height has a positional advantage. 


The Intimidation power plays explored so far derive their effectiveness from arousing obedience and guilt. As the power get more overt and crude, they increasingly exploit fears of violence.

The antithesis to threats and assault is to ignore them without fear. (An assault is a threatening gesture.) 

The cooperative response to a threat or assault might go like this:

"Don't threaten me. I am not afraid of you. You are making me angry. I'm not going to put up with your violence, but I'm willing to talk about what's bothering you. What's eating you, anyway?" 

No discussion of appropriate responses to power plays would be incomplete unless it at least attempted to deal with extreme physical power plays such as (as an example) rape.

Some might say that there is no reasonable discussion possible here and that the only practical response is power parity based physical opposition. Yet, in counseling women on how to deal with sexual attacks, the four kinds of responses to power plays-acquiescence, escalation, antithesis, and cooperative response-apply.

Ideally, every woman would have at her disposal self-defense techniques to neutralize any attacker's attempts. The martial art of Aikido provides a perfect example of an antithesis to a crude physical power play like attempted rape. The attacker's energy is used against him to neutralize his attack. Aikido has no offensive moves, but other martial arts provide for opportunities for escalation so that the attacker is harmed in response. 

But it isn't very realistic to expect all or even most women to learn self-defense. Some rape counselors have advised acquiescence as a response to an armed or obviously vicious rapist. However the experience of making oneself totally powerless and at the mercy of another's cruelty leaves deep scars upon the soul. 

It does seem that in addition to a knowledge of self-defense, it would be useful to have a knowledge of the options and to attempt to find out the violent what the violent personís motivations might be.

I am not sure that it makes practical sense to speak of a cooperative response to an attempt at rape or any other act of wanton violence but it is, conceivably, an option. George Kohlrieser an expert on hostage taking situations suggests that a respectful dialogue, in which a human bond is established, is almost always possible with a perpetrator and always worth attempting. What the transactional process would look like is not clear enough to me to present here.



Chapter 10: LIES. 

Lies are a third family of power plays. They take advantage of people's gullibility and fear of confrontation.

Most people are extremely susceptible to lies, because as a matter of daily routine, we are lied to extensively from our earliest days. One of the most effective ways of controlling people is by lying to them; when we feel superior to someone else we seem to believe that we don't have to tell them the truth. Usually, the explanation for not being truthful to those we wish to control is that they aren't mature or intelligent enough to understand things as they really are; or that it would hurt them if they knew the truth. These excuses for lying are used by politicians in relation to voters; by management in relation to the workers; by rich people in relation to their servants; and, of course, by parents in relation to children. 

Because of the pervasive lying around us, we take lies and half truths more or less for granted in our lives. Only in very special relationships, such as when we fall in love, or when our children finally grow up, or when we speak to our therapist or minister, or when we testify under oath, do we feel that we even need to be concerned about being truthful. And usually we have lied so much that, when the time comes to tell the truth, we are more or less incapable of doing so. 

Most of us know when we are telling a bold-faced lie because in a bold-faced lie there is a direct contradiction between the content of our consciousness, or what we're thinking, and what we say. But this black-and-white, direct, and conscious contradiction becomes blurred in the other forms of lies that we use in our everyday lives. In fact, the effect of lies upon our consciousness needs to be clearly understood. Lies (our own and others) are corrosive to our minds. More than just blurring our consciousness, they undermine our capacity to be effective in the world. They separate us from reality, create paranoia, invalidate our perceptions, discount our emotions, short-circuit our Adult, disorganize our thinking, dull our feelings, and ultimately can drive us mad. 

Lies are the single most potent method of defeating people's capacity to understand the world and to be effective in it. Lies about products make us into wasteful consumers. Lies about politics make us citizen-sheep.  Lies about each other make us incapable of loving and maintaining relationships. Lies about our work make us unproductive and resentful. Lies cause us to go along, to be obedient, and willing to believe that it is our fault we aren't happy and successful. 

In order to understand the way in which people control us, and the ways in which we control people, it is important to understand lies in detail. 

The Bold-faced Lie and the Big Lie 

The conscious, bold-faced lie depends for its effectiveness mostly on the trust-but also on the lack of information-of the person being lied to. You are buying a car from me, and I tell you that it burns one liter of oil every three thousand miles. However you look under the hood, and you don't notice that the engine compartment has been recently steam-cleaned and that there is a blue cloud of vapor issuing from the exhaust. The combination of your ignorance and my lie, based on your trust, may cause you to buy this car. 

But there is another form of bold-faced lying. It is effective based not only on your ignorance and trust, but on an additional factor: the lie is so enormous that we cannot believe that it can be a lie, even though we canít believe itís true either. The Big Lie is a huge bold-faced lie. It works because of the fact that when someone tells a big enough lie, we might believe it, even though our senses are clearly telling us that what the person is saying is not true. I once bought a car on precisely this peculiarity of human nature. As I drove it around the block, with the salesman sitting next to me, I noticed that when I put it in second gear, it made a definite, loud grinding noise. I knew that this gearbox had a defective second gear. I asked the salesman, "What's wrong with this gearbox?" 

He turned to me with a smile, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "All of the Fords of this vintage have this noise in the gearbox. It's normal." This lie was so big that I actually believed it, even though I knew perfectly well that it could not be true. 

The most extensive and successful use of the Big Lie was by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis during the Third Reich, who during the prewar years succeeded in manipulating world opinion with outrageous bold-faced lies. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote: 

 "... with the primitive simplicity of their feeling [the broad mass of the people] fall victim more easily to a big lie than to a small one, since they themselves occasionally lie in small matters but they would be ashamed to tell great lies. Such falsehoods will not enter their minds, and they will not be able to imagine others asserting the great boldness of the most infamous representation. 

Hitler's lies were the basis for his success. Had he not lied, he would have never come to power. He told huge lies to attain his political goals. For instance, on April 3, 1939, in a top-secret document on Poland, he defined the task of the Wehrmacht "to destroy the Polish armed forces [to which] end a surprise attack is to be aimed and prepared." Less than a month later, in a speech broadcast the world over, he said, "The worst is that now Poland, like Czechoslovakia a year ago, believes, under pressure of a lying international campaign, that it must call up troops although Germany has not called up a single man and had not thought of proceeding in any way against Poland." A few months later, on September l--the very date which Hitler had set on April 3--the Wehrmacht overran Poland. It wasn't until this point that people began to suspect that Hilter was a monstrous liar. The Germans never did, apparently, while he was alive. 

Nazi Germany occurs frequently in this book as an example of the abuse of Control Power. As we will see later, the Nazi period was an instance of Control Power run amok. 

A variant of the Big Lie is Super-Honesty. Here a person who intends eventually to achieve something through lying prepares the situation by being extraordinarily honest and making a show of it in the early parts of the relationship. Such a trick is often used by certain repairmen who will fix something and charge a dollar, or nothing at all; or in some other way give the impression that they are extremely candid and honest, only to soak the customer eventually on the third or fourth time around.

Such people characteristically use the words "honest" or "truth" or "sincerely" and will often wink while speaking.

"Honestly, though, I didn't see any reason to charge anything for such a small item." Or "To tell you the truth, (wink) I think you can do better by going and buying this part down the street and installing it yourself." Or "I'll tell you sincerely: I am making five percent over wholesale on these." While such expressions don't necessarily mean that the person is dishonest, untruthful, or insincere, at the very least they demonstrate a concern with honesty and truth, and for me, are always a red flag that dishonesty and lies may be at the heart of the situation, especially when accompanied by a conspiratorial wink. However, it is important to remember that there are honest and neighborly people who will enjoy giving things and services away from time to time without planning to eventually fleece the recipients of their favors. Such people are deeply shocked by the cynicism they find-especially in big cities like New York, Paris or Moscow, where neighborliness and honesty is regarded with suspicion. Unfortunately, the pretense of honesty combined with lies is so prevalent that a truly honest and generous person seems to have become an anomaly. 

Lies of Omission, Half-Truths, Secrets. 

When a person is put on a stand to testify, he is asked to swear that he will tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Notice that in addition to covering bold-faced lies (nothing but the truth), there's another clause that enjoins the witness to tell the whole truth, which is to say not to tell only partial truths, and not to omit any truth. Of course, it is much more difficult to determine whether someone is telling the whole truth, but it needs to be accepted from the outset that not to tell the whole truth is as much of a lie as telling a bold-faced lie.

According to this definition, a lie is a conscious act, so that a person cannot lie without being aware of it. The truth is simply the truth as the speaker knows it. This way the larger philosophical question "What is the truth?" often used by liars to excuse their deceptions can be sidestepped. "You are lying when you are saying or failing to say what you believe is true."

A lie by omission, or half-truth, is a situation in which we knowingly hold back information which we understand, the other person wants. 

Advertisers have developed the habit of lying-by-omission to a science. "Scrubbo can cut your scrubbing time in half, or double your money back." Of course, Scrubbo could cut your cleaning time in half, but it may not. It also could, conceivably, double your cleaning time. There is nothing in the statement that guarantees that it will actually cut your cleaning time in half. The gullibility of the listener is exploited with this half-truth. 

We have grown accustomed to accepting lies by omission as a justified and inevitable part of our everyday life. Coupled with this is the fact that people believe that its OK, even desirable, to tell "little white lies" to protect others from painful truths and that "what we don't know won't hurt us" so that a state of constant half-truth is the usual experience for most of us. 

Lies of omission are not as powerful a power play as bold-faced lies, but they can do the work quite effectively.  Suppose, again, that you're buying a car that is a bad oil-burner. You ask the salesman, "How is this car on oil?" The salesman can answer, with a bold-faced lie, "It doesn't burn any oil." Or a Big Lie, "It's amazing for a car of this age, and you're going to have trouble believing this, but this car burns less than a quart to five thousand miles." Or, a half-truth, "This car has burned less than a quart in the last three months." (It's been sitting on the lot for the last three months.) Or, an evasion, "It uses detergent thirty-weight."  Obviously these lies are decreasingly powerful in their desired effect, but they all work surprisingly well, and it's amazing how far a person can manipulate others through lies of omission. 


The antithesis to lies is difficult. No one likes to call someone a liar to his or her face. No matter how sure we are, as Hitler pointed out, we aren't able to imagine anyone being a conscious liar. Calling someone a liar is a major insult, and we risk anger, retaliation, and abuse. It's easier to just forget the whole thing; it is soothing to believe, and so we go along for the sake of harmony and simplicity. 

The antitheses to lies can be very difficult. That is another reason why we accept lies; it is so much easier to believe and act on faith rather than to listen to our intuition and exposing a lie. The antithesis to lying is, obviously enough, asking questions and checking the answers. Sometimes just a series of questions can expose a lie because the answers will contradict each other or because the liar will lose his nerve; that is what cross-examination in the courtroom is all about. But when lies are carefully conceived, reality can be found only by independently verifying the statement's truth. 

Asking questions is not easy, since they imply mistrust and give the liar an excuse for righteous indignation. Yet it is possible to phrase questions in a relatively inoffensive manner.

For instance: 

"I hope you don't mind, Mr. Smith, but can I ask you a few questions?"


"Was the engine compartment of the car steam cleaned?" 

"I don't know." 

"Well, it looks like it was. Can we find out?" 

"I guess it was. We sometimes do that." 

"Why did you do it in this case? Just curious... could you find out?" 

Or "What is that smoke coming from the exhaust?" 

Or "Who owned this car previously? Can I call them?" 

Or "How long has the car been sitting here? How do you know whether it burns oil or not?" 

In practicing the antithesis against lies, it is important not to be embarrassed to ask as many questions as one has to. That requires a certain amount of nerve. The other person may get upset but the questions should be pursued to the end. A person who lies may use any number of techniques to avoid the antithesis. 

Derision: "What's the matter, don't you trust me?" (With a smile.) 

Antithesis: "I just want to ask some questions. Do you mind answering them?" (With a smile.) 

Distraction: "Yes, the engine compartment and the rest of the car was cleaned inside and out. Isn't it clean? We always sell clean cars." 

Antithesis: "I am not concerned with the rest of the car. Why was the engine compartment steam-cleaned?" 

Humor: "Maybe it was cleaned so you can cook your fried eggs on the engine's head. How do you like your eggs?"

Antithesis: "Over easy, thank you, but I'd rather cook at  home. What was the reason?" 

Red herring: "That reminds me. I just read an article in Motor Magazine where they said that it's harmful to the wiring to steam-clean engines. Maybe we shouldn't do it anymore. What do you think?" 

Antithesis: "Well, if I was trying to get rid of a lot of oil in the cowl, I might steam-clean the engine anyway. Was that the reason?" 

Anger: "Are you calling me a liar?" 

Antithesis: "No, I am just trying to find out why the engine was steam-cleaned." 

It is highly unlikely that a liar will admit a lie. Unlike most antitheses, which usually succeed in stopping the power play, the antithesis to lies is just as likely to increase the lies. The liar can be counted on to heap lie upon lie to avoid telling the truth. In the end, the person who suspects a lie will have to decide for himself what the facts really are. While the antithesis may not stop the lying, it will prevent the manipulation. 

One could try the following:

Cooperative response: "I am afraid that you aren't being completely truthful. There is something about what you are telling me which doesn't make sense. It feels wrong. Is there a reason why you might be lying to me? Perhaps it would be better if we discussed the matter in complete honesty. Would you be interested? " 

When I have used the above response, it has never succeeded in producing a more honest conversation; people don't easily admit to lying. That is why making a cooperative contract in which lies are excluded a priori is such an effective strategy. While lying is difficult to stop in the short term a long term cooperative agreement of no lies will have the effect of discouraging further lies and fostering more honest communication at a later time. 

High Ball/Low Ball 

Years ago a very well advertised slogan ran: "Promise her anything, but give her Arpege." A favorite trick of merchandisers is "High Ball, Low Ball" wherein a person's interest is stimulated by a highly attractive price (the Low Ball)--which isn't really available--only to be sold an expensive High Ball.  Consumer revolt has stopped the most blatant examples of such advertising but it is still a much-used device in a subtler form. Department stores and markets will advertise low "loss leaders"--discounted or low quality items--in the hope that people will buy regularly priced items as well or instead.

When people play High/Low Ball, they make more or less consciously exaggerated offers only to come across with a much diminished final product. "Let's get married and I'll honor and obey forever." Or "Let's have sex and I'll marry you." Or "Lend me your car and I'll tune it up and give you a set of tires." Or "Invest a thousand dollars in my business and we'll be partners." 

Antithesis: With High/Low Ball, there are two antitheses possible: before and after it's too late. Before it's too late, the antithesis is to make the offer clear by asking many questions, preferably in front of other people, and clarifying the agreement and what precisely the exchange is. Preferably the agreement can be put in writing in a "Memorandum of Understanding" in which as many of the important issues of the intent of the agreement are specified.

Some people will consider this an insult to their integrity:


"Whatís the matter donít you trust me?"

I always say: "I do trust you. Otherwise I would not go into this agreement with you. But I have found that it is always a good idea to anticipate as many problems as possible. Do you mind?" 

After it's too late, the only recourse is to ask for what was offered in an assertive way. 

"You said that f I lent you the car you would tune it up and put new tires on it, but it won't start." 

"Well, I had the car tuned before the trip, and the tires are new." 

"Yes, but you took a two month trip across the country. You promised to tune the car, and that meant to me that you would return it tuned. Where did you buy these tires, anyway?  They are all different." 

"I bought them used. They have a lot of thread on them." 

"Well, I want the car tuned now, and I want new tires, as you said." 

"I can't afford that. I spent all my money on the trip." 

"I realize you may have no money, but I want a tune-up and new tires, like you promised." 

"You are being unreasonable. I'll change the plugs in the car and see if it starts." 

"I can understand why you feel I'm being unreasonable, and I don't want you to work on the car. I want a tune-up and new tires." 

And so on. But, as I mentioned before, it may be too late. It would have been much better to get the agreement clear before the car was borrowed. 

In the above example, the reader may recognize techniques of Systematic Assertive Therapy, a method developed by Manuel J. Smith. This method is a very useful technique for avoiding manipulation. It was published in Smith's book, When I Say No I Feel Guilty, which I highly recommend as a practical manual for people who want to avoid being power-played. 

Cooperative Response: Again, there are two places in which to apply a response to High/Low Ball: before and after it's too late. 

Before, the cooperative response is much like the antithesis: Get a clear contract and if appropriate put it in writing. After it might go something like this:

"Look, I am very upset about this. I'm sure you can understand that I want a car that works. I definitely want a professional tune-up. As far as the tires go, the front right and the rear left are matched and look pretty good, so why don't you get two new tires of the same brand?" 

"Well, that would be okay, but I can't pay for it now." 

"Maybe you can borrow the money for the tune-up and buy the tires on credit, but I absolutely need you to do this." 

"Can you lend me the money? I'll pay you back next week." 

I'll lend you the money if you sign an I.O.U. and bring me your color TV until you pay." 


Statistics are another specific way in which it is possible to lie. Statistics can be made up as you go. "Eighty percent of the women in this country are having sex before marriage." (So let's go, honey.) 

Or "Ninety-nine percent of the people who we deal with are satisfied customers." (So sign the purchase contract.) 

But it isn't necessary to invent statistics. Statistics (valid and false) are available on almost any subject and can be used to advantage. What's worse, special interest groups often set up whole research programs designed to produce statistics that can be used to bolster their point of view. For instance, the Tobacco Institute, which is funded by the tobacco companies, spends millions of dollars a year doing research. Obviously, the research is not done to prove that tobacco is harmful to people. It's hardly likely that tobacco companies would spend millions of dollars with no interest in the outcome of the research. But they rely on the fact that from the hundreds of research outcomes, some of which are valid, and some of which are not, there always are some that could be used to prove that it's safe to smoke cigarettes. Of course the sham of the cigarette manufacturers was eventually exposed after a dozen cigarette CEOís testified in a hearing saying that they did not believe cigarettes caused cancer. Months later a secret memorandum was brought to light that showed that they were lying. They had all received the results of research proving the cancer link many years before. A very rare case of catching this type of high level lies.

Of course this is not to say that all statistics are lies. Clearly there are reputable organizations that conduct impartial research that can be trusted. I am only saying that it is easy to lie with statistics.

Antithesis and Cooperative Response: The antithesis to  power-play statistics is to check out their validity or to assert one's  point of view regardless of logic or statistics.

The cooperative response follows the same pattern as that used for all the power plays: 

"I wish you wouldn't try to convince me with statistics I can't believe. It makes me mad. I told you I don't want to have sex with you, so can't we just be friends? I really love you and am willing to be good to you, but I don't want to get sexy. Come on, cheer up. Let's have some fun!" 


Gossip is a power play that uses lies for its effectiveness. It is especially effective in close-knit interpersonal situations, groups, and small towns. People can introduce false information in people's minds to manipulate them. A great classic example is Shakespeare's play Othello, in which Iago's lies to Othello about his beloved wife eventually lead Othello to murder her and kill himself. Gossip is a very powerful method of manipulating others and it is extremely difficult to neutralize when a clever liar uses it. Gossip is usually delivered in hushed tones, to suggest that it is confidential information not to be passed on. In fact, it is being spoken to be passed on, but the hushed tones imply that itís not really being said, so that the gossip cannot be held responsible. It is as if the gossip is saying, "I am telling you this, but I am not really telling it to you. So don't quote me, just pass it on." 

Gossip and rumors have a way of becoming increasingly distorted and are capable of panicking people. Gossip is used in "disinformation," when in order to confuse people about what is going on, a person plants a confusing, false rumor in a gossip grapevine. It is therefore very important to know how to deal with this power play. 

Antithesis: One powerful way of dealing with gossip is the implantation of a counter-rumor. If the false rumor is circulating that Boris is deeply in debt and about to go bankrupt, Boris can have Jill plant information that contradicts it. Jill might tell people about the fact that Boris has recently paid all his debts with a consolidation loan. That rumor will join the other one in the grapevine and tend to neutralize it. More concretely, however, in dealing with gossip, questions are, once again, extremely effective. Checking what people supposedly said or did can deflate gossip with surprising swiftness. It is important with gossip not to respect the attempts to keep secrets which usually accompany it. 

Boris: "Mary cheated Alex out of some money." 

Bill: "Really? Who did you hear it from?" 

Boris: "I heard it from Peter." 

Bill: "Who told Peter?" 

Boris: "I don't know." 

Bill: "Well, that's a pretty serious rumor to be passing around when you don't even know the source. Do you mind if I check this out with Mary and Alex? They are both good friends, and I'd like to know what is going on." 

Boris: "Well, Peter asked me not to mention it to you because he knew it would upset you." 

Bill: "In that case, you should not have said it to me, but now that you did, I'd like to find out. Is that okay?" 

Cooperative Response: When you hear a rumor, it is very useful to find out its source and whether it is an eyewitness report or hearsay. If hearsay, it is important to know what level hearsay it is. Even if Boris heard the rumor from Peter who heard it from Alex himself, the information is likely to be hopelessly distorted. Each person who is involved adds his own distortion. 

Alex may have just said to Peter that he made a poor bargain with Mary. He may even be willing to take responsibility without saying so. And he may, in fact, have gotten a very good deal. 

Alex (to Peter): "I didn't get a very good deal when I bought that car from Mary." 

Peter then adds on his own twist. 

Peter (to Boris): "Alex says that he got a lousy deal from Mary on that car." 

Next Boris adds his two cents ("Mary cheated Alex") and by this time a nasty rumor has been started. The cooperative response to such statements is to ask whether Boris was an eyewitness to the sale of the car and to inquire about his reasoning for the conclusion. 

In general, information which is hearsay should be taken with a large grain of salt especially if it is third or fourth level hearsay. 

The cooperative response to a rumor is to check it through to its origin, hear all sides of the story and if the rumor is false, endeavor to set the record straight with all the parties involved. People who make it a habit to follow up on rumors are reasonably immune to gossip power plays because in such a situation gossip tends to backfire against those who start it. 


Chapter 11


Up to now, all of the power plays discussed are used aggressively-that is, by people who are offensively trying to get what they want. But there is a whole group of power plays that are defensive and accomplish their goal passively. 

Nobody Upstairs 

"Nobody Upstairs" depends on refusing to acknowledge other people's expectations. If you want me to do something and I don't want to do it, I can use a number of ways to talk you out of what you want. But I can also simply refuse to acknowledge the request. "Nobody Upstairs" can be played in many variations. Not listening, reading the newspaper, taking copious notes, looking out the window or doing something while you are speaking, are good examples. When at work or in business situations, it is possible to answer the phone, or even intentionally have someone call in the middle of a conversation, and then breezily say, "Go ahead, I'm listening. I just have to take care of this little bit of business here." This also called multitasking which is supposed to be a good thing in a go-go productivity world such as ours. However, what is multitasking to one person can be playing "Nobody upstairs" to another. Multitasking or "Nobody upstairs" can be a definite intimacy barrier in personal relationships

One form of "Nobody Upstairs" ploy is missing appointments, forgetting instructions, not remembering agreements. In general, playing "Stupid" ("Who, Me?"), ("Gee, I'm Sorry") is a way in which one can foil other people's expectations by feigning ignorance of them or never actually taking them in. 

Another way to play "Nobody Upstairs" is to ignore unspoken rules. "Golly, I didn't know you weren't supposed to wipe your shoes with the towels." Or "How was I supposed to know that you would expect people to knock before coming into your bedroom?" 

A particularly obnoxious version of this power play is ignoring refusals, in which a person continues to ask for something after being repeatedly denied. Women often have that experience with men who will not take "No!" for an answer, and will doggedly pursue their aims by turning totally deaf ears to the woman's lack of interest. Often this kind of power play breaks down the woman's resistance so that she goes along just to get rid of him. 

Antithesis: The antithesis to "Nobody Upstairs" is to pretend you are dealing with a retarded child, and patiently draw his attention to the subject matter at hand, making sure that he stays in touch throughout. 

"Please stop reading that newspaper and listen to me."  (And later) "Did you get what I said? Can you repeat it to me?" 

Iíll be glad to wait until your call is finished. Perhaps we should meet at another time? I'd like to have your undivided attention." 

"Are you writing this appointment down? Let me see...  You wrote it in the wrong date. It's April 16th, not April 19th."

"Would you like me to call you to remind you to bring those papers?" 

"No, Alex, I don't want to just cuddle for a while. If, you don't take your hands off me, I am going to leave. Please stop." (With "Nobody Upstairs" players, it is always good to have your own transportation and a place to sleep and eat readily available.) 

Cooperative Response: "I am getting really tired and angry when you don't remember what I ask you to do. If you expect me to relate to you, you'll have to do something about hearing me and acting on what I ask of you. How can we get this situation straightened out?" 

Notice that in expressing the feelings that are generated, I am mentioning being tired and angry. Often people have a problem saying how they actually feel. Instead they evaluate or judge the person. For instance, I am not saying: "I feel that you are not interested in what I say" or "I feel you are power-playing me." Neither of these two sentences express a feeling. Rather, they posit a theory of what is happening; a theory which is not necessarily true and which doesn't bring out how I feel, which is tired and angry.

"Nobody upstairs" is often played as an escalation to aggressive power plays from people who are in positions of power. Children, servants, slaves may find that Nobody Upstairs is the only even remotely effective of responding to someone elseís domination. 

You Owe Me 

This is a passive power play that is based on the quiet exploitation of other people's sense of obligation. People who use this maneuver are very tuned into othersí guilt. A guilt power player will set the stage by doing a series of things for the victim all of which are intended to create a sense of obligation that can be later be collected upon. Women in need of security from a man will often pave the way by creating the necessary amounts of guilt by being loving, yielding, nurturing. If he accepts these gifts from her, he may feel after a while that not to reciprocate with a commitment would be a betrayal. If his guilt can be hooked, he may get married, start a family, and support his wife and subsequent children for the rest of his life, based on "You Owe Me" guilt alone. 

Conversely, men will use the same ploy on women to obtain what they want--nurturing, warmth, love, and sex--by spending a lot of money on travel, meals and entertainment, with the express purpose of creating a feeling of debt and guilt. When both people engage in these guilt-arousing maneuvers, the situation is even more complicated in that they are both simultaneously power-playing each other for things they do not want to give and winding up hopelessly locked into a complicated network of obligations, shot through with guilt and anger. 

Another form of "You Owe Me" power plays has to do with rights. We are supposedly all born equal, meaning we all have equal rights before the law. But our historical tradition is one in which some people are more equal than others; some people assume or are given rights others donít have. It may seem strange to most ears, but not too many years ago, the rights that royalty had over the people-were "God-given." The king had the right to demand that his subjects pay their taxes, go to war for him, give up their land, and do any number of things which he desired. If they didn't, they were going against God's wishes and could be coerced by simple, moral arguments (backed by jailing and torture) reminding them of their obligations toward God and the King. 

Similar God-given rights were assumed by parents over children, by whites over people of color, by men over women, by rich people over poor people, by "educated people" over the "masses." It is not at all unusual for children, third world people, and the poor to still willingly give up their rights on the basis of guilt. One example is the guilt that people who cannot obtain a job or who are disabled feel when they ask for or accept welfare money. This money is their right to have in a just society. Yet many people will feel extremely guilty about accepting aid, a guilt that is encouraged by the rich in every possible way. 

Similarly, employers would like their workers to be thankful for simply being offered employment; a thankful worker will accept lower pay. A similar ploy is used when cut throat corporations cultivate the notion that the work force is a big family which hopefully will cause guilt in the worker who is dissatisfied, rebellious or overly demanding. Often, good workers confuse pride of workmanship-doing a good job-with pride of work place- working for a good boss. They are not the same, and pride of workmanship can keep a worker in a bad job with a bad boss.

Fundamentally, this pride is the pride of obedience, of being a good subject, a good child, a good "nigger," a good woman or a good man. 

"I give you a job, you owe me hard work." 

"You owe your life to your country. Go and fight. Be a man!" 

"I'm your husband; I work hard. I want dinner ready when I come home from work." 

"What do you black people want, anyway? Why can't you be satisfied? You have jobs. You're getting into colleges. You can live anywhere you want. Isn't that enough?" 

"I'm your father. You owe me some respect. I don't want any backtalk from you." 

Divine rights, parental rights, family rights are all lavishly used, even today, as a way of getting what we want from other people. 

Antithesis: The antithesis to "You Owe Me" can be difficult. In order not to fall for this kind of power play, a person has to be willing to give up guilt as a guiding emotion. However, giving up guilt as an emotion is dangerously close to refusing to honor obligations to other human beings. We tend to fear that refusing to yield to "You Owe Me" power plays will turn us into people who are callous, insensitive, and totally selfish. 

There is validity to this concern. The point, however, is not to become insensitive to other people's needs and wishes. We need to know just what we want to do for whom. Guilt is not a very good indicator of what our obligations are. A sense of responsibility, based on clear moral guidelines, is a much better basis for deciding what to do than a sense of guilt, which can be easily stimulated by other people's selfish-power plays. 

The antithesis to "You Owe Me" then, is to say, "I owe you nothing, unless we made a fair deal and you have performed on your side and I haven't on mine, I have no obligations to you. I'll do what I do out of choice, not out of obligation; so I won't die for my country, cook dinner, be satisfied with this job, keep quiet unless it pleases me to do so." 

Cooperative Response: "Wait a minute, Boris. It hurts me and makes me angry that you talk to me this way, telling me that because you work hard and because I am your wife, dinner has to be ready on the table the moment you arrive from work. 

"I understand you are tired and hungry and cranky and I would like to help you, but I don't think that I have to, or that I owe it to you. I am doing the best I can, but I am afraid that dinner won't always be ready whenever you get here; so let's talk about how we can take care of how you feel when you get home. Maybe you can take a hot shower or maybe ... (etc.)." 

Notice that after saying how she feels, Jill repeats to Boris what he does to cause her feelings. She doesn't say "You are chauvinist pig" or "You are power-playing me" or "You are unreasonable," but she explains, as closely as she can, what he does that bothers her, without judgment or interpretation, and how she feels when she is exposed to his behavior. 



Chapter 12: The Cooperative Response and the Creative Solution 

Let us look a little more closely at cooperative responses to power plays. They consist of three parts: (1) an expression of how it feels to be power-played; (2) a brief analysis of the power play; (3) a cooperative alternative. 

Let us look at the third part of the cooperative response; the cooperative alternative.

The power player usually presents the victim of the power play with an either/or alternative. This is the result of a tendency on the part of controlling, competitive people to see the world in terms of mutually exclusive categories; one-up or one-down, either-or, black or white, yes or no. The world as seen by the power player is two-dimensional, with nothing in between. The imposition of such narrow dichotomies on reality is characteristic of the controlling approach o life and does violence to a world which is multi-dimensional, multifaceted, multicolored. There is no such thing as black or white, in the real world; all of the colors in between are just as important. Whenever we are told that we must choose between two (or three) only possible alternatives, it is important to remember that there always is another-not yet-perceived-choice, which may have to be created. A creative solution exists that provides most of the people with what they want, most of the time. Belief in the existence of a potential creative solution requires that we refuse to accept the choices presented by controlling people in their power plays. What seems like a zero-sum situation (I win=You lose) is reappraised, re-defined in fact, so that no one needs to lose and everybody can possibly win. The scarcities that underlie the power play can be resolved and people's needs can be satisfied to a reasonable--if not to the fullest--extent. 

Here is a situation that beautifully exemplifies the concept of cooperative alternatives to power plays: 

During a workshop on Cooperation, in which I had discussed the creative solution the following situation arose: I had made arrangements with Josephine, a friend of mine whom I seldom had an opportunity to see, to be driven from the workshop to the nearest airport. During the hour-and-a-half drive we had planned to talk over old times, and we were both greatly looking forward to being together. One of the participants of the workshop, a psychiatrist had tickets to the West Coast on the same plane as I and had not been able to obtain a ride to the airport. When he found out that Josephine was driving me he asked if he could come along. At first she agreed, but in the next few hours she realized that this would spoil our plans to spend time together. He assumed she would agree to let him come along and that, given his extreme need, it was unreasonable for her to refuse him a ride. She felt that he was being unreasonable to expect a ride and that he should fend for himself. They raised the issue during the workshop but after much power-playing through interruptions, raised voices, "All or Nothing," and "Intimidation," the discussion came to a stalemate.

One of the workshop's participants turned to me and challenged me: "You say that there is a creative solution to every problem. What do you suggest here?" 

The situation seemed hopeless. After all, either he came in the car and interfered with our planned time together, in which case he won and we lost or we refused to take him along and had it our way. Where was there any possible middle ground? I remembered Darca Nicholson's words to me when she first introduced me to the Creative Solution, "Whenever you are presented with a black-and-white choice, refuse to make it. Relax. Sit back and let your faith in people's cooperative nature guide you. Investigate the problem as it is, not as it is being presented: ask questions, look at the problem in the flesh and not in your mind. A Creative Solution will come from a rainbow of options." 

"What kind of a car have you got?" I asked Josephine. 

"A station wagon." 

"How large is it?" 

"It's a big olí Ford LTD." 

"Do you have a radio?" 

"Of course. What would I do without a radio?" 

"Does it have rear speakers?" 

"Yeah, I guess it does." 

I turned to the gentleman and asked, "How would you like to lie in the back of the station wagon with the radio turned on while we sit in the front seat? Promise not to peek?" 

He beamed: the creative solution was at hand. "Sure, that's great. I'm very tired and would like to sleep anyway." I turned to Josephine and said, "If we put all of the luggage in the back seat, turn on the radio, and he promises not to get up or listen, how do you feel about taking him along?" 

She, too, was pleased. "Well, sure. I think that will work. I can live with that." 

He would not be strapped in by a seat belt but we were all willing to take the risk so this was not a perfect solution but this is a good example of how, if one refuses to accept the either/or premise of the control mode, one can, often amazingly, find a creative middle ground that satisfies most of the people, most of the time.

This also a good example of a "power spot" issue because positioning was of central importance here. Everyone who tried to solve the problem assumed that Stan would naturally have to sit up front in the car. Josephine, a social worker, black, and a woman would naturally retreat to make space for him and be displaced from her position of power as the driver of the car and my friend. Had Stan been a little boy, we would have thought of the solution immediately, but to put Stan in the back of the bus was hard to conceive. Once having conceived of it, it was obviously the correct redefinition of the situation. The narrow, two-dimensional thinking involved was that he would be riding in front with us. After all, he was white, he was a man, he was a powerful psychiatrist. By having him willingly give up that powerful position in front, he got what he wanted. And so did we. 

Creative solutions are arrived at through negotiation. Everyone asks for what they want, and with the needs and desires of the people involved and all of the facts in plain view, the factors in the situation are rearranged like the pieces of a puzzle. The pieces don't always fit perfectly, but more often than not they can be set down in such a way that the final arrangement is one of mutual satisfaction and harmony. Even though someone may not get exactly what he or she wanted, the process of cooperating is rewarding in and of itself and in a cooperative situation everyone has confidence that over time things will be fair and equitable. 



Chapter 13


People who are singularly invested in control power plays often dominate their environment with the physical aspects of their person: their movements, their voice, their smells. But equally often their domination is much more subtle. It can be perceived only by the subtle oppressive energy transmitted in their language and demeanor, and the long-range effects of relating to them: that we repeatedly wind up disappointed, the loser, one down or feeling somehow not-OK.

People who are primarily invested in being powerful through control power are seen as competitive, ambitious, focused. When a person is all of these, he is regarded with ambivalence; he is admired and envied, respected and feared, loved and hated. Our culture highly rewards such people with success, money and power.  

One effect of this kind of excessive output of control energy is that the person will consume and exhaust herself at a rapid rate. People like this have been classified as "Type A" personalities, which are prone to physical breakdown, illness, and an early death. They literally expend their stores of physical energy before their life cycles are completed. 

The excessive exercise of this type of power is particularly harmful to others as well. The earth, especially, is a victim of peopleís control as we manipulate every aspect of the biomass; building and reshaping cities, constructing parking lots and highways, damming up rivers, clear-cutting forests, strip-mining the countryside, pumping underground water deposits to exhaustion, extracting oil from the Earth's insides and spilling it upon her surface and polluting the atmosphere. 

At a personal level control energy is felt as oppressive and is responded to with resentment. Control transactions involve dominating others with the consequent power struggles and games. People who are controlling find themselves surrounded by others who are either angry, passive or both. 

Having said that, it is important to also say that control is also a worthwhile source of power which allows us to effectively deal with our environment. Control as a source of power, when used ethically and cooperatively and when it is not out of control, helps us to bring about desired results and prevent unwanted outcomes. 

We are under many different kinds of pressures. Externally there are the pressures of making a living, obtaining recreation, dealing with traffic, bureaucracy, muggers, mashers, heat, cold, damp, and rain.  Internally, our feelings demand constant expression; anger, sadness, fear, guilt can overwhelm us. Our capacity to control all of these forces is an important form of power. Control, per se, is not good or bad; it is Control gone-out-of-control that we need to guard against. 

The Technology of Control 

If people can be confined in a jail or other institution (school, mental hospital) where the rewards and punishments can be strictly controlled, this can be used to effectively shape human behavior. Equally effective are the sophisticated strategies used to control people who are not confined to an institution by people who are accustomed to dominating others.

The rich and powerful have learned how to manipulate their fellow human beings for a long time and have passed down their knowledge through the generations. The successful use of control power is taught to the children of the powerful by constant example and at prep schools and private universities. Books like The Prince by Machiavelli have been written for them, and they have lawyers, public relations experts, politicians, sociologists, psychologists, physicians, and other professionals at their disposal. Their control skills are being constantly upgraded. 

When developed to its most subtle and powerful extent, control is not easily noticed; it takes place behind the scenes, quietly and effectively, preferably with a friendly smile in front. All of the major politicians and corporations that would like to run our lives have perfected effective methods of control and use them at every opportunity, through public-relations campaigns, propaganda and advertising. Most people have difficulty believing that we are under the constant influence of controlling energies and will assume that those who chafe under their influence are "paranoid." 

As I will explain later, paranoia is actually a state of heightened awareness and fear of control is a valid emotion. We need only take a look at what happens when control gets out of control to gain respect for those who are paranoid about it. 


Control can run amok in large and small ways. Most intimately, we can experience it when the control of our own feelings gets out of hand. We can suppress our feelings to such an extent that we are no longer able to feel anything except hard, cold, numb or dead. Mental and educational institutions, jails, and the military are fertile environments for rampant control. At a national level, we see governments attempting to completely control the news or to totally subjugate their populations. We have oil companies seeking to dominate the entire energy field. Internationally, the World Bank controls every significant major economic transaction in the world and has the power of economic life and death over any minor government and uses it at will. During the George W, Bush presidency the US became briefly involved in a blatant attempt to become the globeís controlling nation. Only the combined effect of instant information communication and the democratic process were able to stop him and his cabinet.

The ultimate example of Control gone amok is Hitler's Third Reich, which in its drive to dominate the world became a complex mechanism of awesome proportions and effectiveness, in which German business and industry, the military, the media, the courts, and the German people all worked together to exterminate millions of human beings, wipe out complete cities, subjugate whole countries, and almost succeed in its plan of total world domination. 

We, in this country, are used to freedom and independence and are making constant inroads into the power of corporations and government. We don't seriously fear the Nazi type of Control-run-amok. So far we have been lucky; hopefully, our luck will continue, but we must not delude ourselves into believing that type of control and domination can't happen here. 

We have a powerful and growing Right Wing in this country The Right wing is not made up of rabid crackpots or raving zealots. The movement they are building is not a lunatic fringe but the product of right wing passionate convictions, plus corporate wealth and XXI century technology. Their aim is complete control. With effective, new political methods, using computers to locate supporters and raise funds, and with sophisticated, ruthless, psychologically effective propaganda they are winning elections and "targeting" and defeating politicians that constitute a threat to their design.   

Even though the Right uses life, children, freedom, and the family as its issues, it favors the death sentence, trying children as adults, jailing huge numbers of non violent criminals mostly of color, uncontrolled ownership and sales of guns, abolition of womenís reproductive rights, destruction of labor unions and social services for the needy and poor. If it has its way the New Right will probably not massacre blacks, Jews or homosexuals; it will threaten life on a lesser scale but along similar lines. In order to fight terrorism the excuse for a police state will be provided which can be used to suppress dissent. By abolishing environmental safeguards and restrictions in order to aid the multinational corporations it will bring us to environmental disaster. By increasing the power of the military by huge allocations to the Pentagonís budget, which can only come out of social welfare programs, it will take power away from the general population and hand it to the leaders of the industrial-military complex. In short, the right wingís aim is to even further concentrate power into the hands of the few, who will then have vastly increased control over our destinies. 

The New Right's program, if it succeeds--and son far it is making steady progress--will return control to the super-rich and the super-powerful.  Those of us who want a fair distribution of power to continue in this country will have to struggle at all levels: personal, local, state, and national. In this book I am attempting to explain what control is and how it works on a day-to-day, personal basis so that we may prevent others from running our lives and so that we may have the choice of being powerful in the realm of the Other Side of Power 



Chapter 14

Bringing Cooperation to a Competitive World 

I have outlined the various power plays which people use to manipulate each other in their everyday lives. I have recommended specific antitheses to these power plays. I've done so in the hope that by understanding the specific transactions involved in specific power-plays you will be able to defend yourself against unwanted manipulation.

So far I have been commenting at the transactional level of analysis; the specific moves and counter-moves of power plays and cooperation. Let me now take a step back and look at different kinds of personalities and their attitudes about power plays:

I have found that it is possible to discern four different levels of awareness with regard to power plays:

Level I (Conscious): Using myself as an example, I can see a power play coming from miles away. I learned how to use power plays early in life, and I've spent decades studying them. Consequently, I'm fairly reasonably aware and I can see people's power plays in high relief as they use them to get me or someone else to do something I don't want to do. I am also aware of my own use of power plays, though it is easier to see them in others than to see and admit them in myself. 

Level II. (High Intuitive) Others, while not being so clearly conscious of what a power play is and how it works, are nevertheless aware when they are being manipulated and react with a reflex stiffening, a digging in of the heels, a silent resistance which can be very effective in fending off manipulation. 

Level III. (Low Intuitive) Yet others are not immediately aware of being power played and become conscious of being manipulated, hours or days later, while brushing their teeth, or in the middle of the night. Very often that kind of delay in awareness results in an angry reaction, which is squelched because it seems unreasonable. After all, they reason, they went along with the power play, so they can blame only themselves for their own stupidity.

Level IV. (Unaware) Finally, some people simply go along with what is wanted of them, never becoming conscious that they are being manipulated, though the cumulative effect of repeatedly submitting to people's power plays eventually cause them to feel bad without having any idea of why. 

In addition to these four levels of awareness about being controlled by others, there are four controlling personality types: 

1. Cool Heads. Some people are completely aware of using power plays; just as conscious as the person who flicks a switch in order to turn on a light. To certain teachers, psychotherapists, salesmen, doctors, politicians, political organizers, and bosses, the manipulation of human beings is second nature; a straightforward process applied to further their aims with only their own conscience as their guide. When conscious manipulators meet resistance, their response is deliberate and systematic: they either escalate or withdraw to a safe position to wait for a better opportunity, which they eventually use to advantage. They are not passionate and do not get angry or particularly involved. They operate to remain unnoticed; softly and good-naturedly. They are cold-blooded and they are in a powerful minority because they are effective. 

2. Hot Heads. A second group of people are instinctive power players. They grow up in an environment in which power plays are used frequently and freely, and they learn to use them accordingly. Their use of power plays is semiconscious, not necessarily deliberate. They are hotheaded power players, who, when met with resistance, often lose control and escalate and tend to wind up getting less of what they want rather than more. When they raise children, they teach them how to power-play and then proceed to practice their skill with them. More often than not, the children of hotheaded parents can't wait to get away from them. But when they eventually do, they can't help continuing the hothead pattern with their spouses, friends, or their own children. 

3. Innocents. The third category of people are basically naive. Due to their upbringing, they do not have power-playing skills and do not seem particularly aware that power plays even exist. They try to get things by innocently asking for them, expect to get them, and often do. They are surprised when they discover the extent to which some people power-play to control others. 

4. Cooperators. The fourth type reject the use of power plays and believe that it is better to cooperate than to compete to achieve what they want. They know power plays exist, know how to use them, and how to stop them, and also know how to respond cooperatively. They too are a powerful, effective minority and often are defectors from the ranks of conscious power players. 

These four types of power players-the cool head, the hothead, the innocent, and the cooperative person-often meet and interact. Following I outline some of their most interesting interactions: 

Hothead Meets Hothead (Uproar). The relationship between two hothead power players is usually one of escalation, or uproar. Two such power players will eventually come into an intense confrontation. If they happen to fall in love, they will abandon their power plays for the time being, but eventually their relationship will be one of constant, competitive hassling. They may start out hassling and never get past that stage. When hothead meets hothead, they usually have a good time for a while, while everyone else tries to get as far away from them as possible. Eventually, however, their relationship can become a daily, grim, endless battle of wills. 

Hothead Meets Innocent (Subjugation). In a sexist society this is the relationship between men and women, since men in such a culture are most intensely trained in the use of power plays, while women are trained to be accepting and eager to go along with what men want. In this situation, the hothead systematically gets what he wants from the relationship, with the innocent going along until eventually, years later, reality dawns and dissatisfaction and anger eventually overwhelm the innocent. At that point, the hothead cannot understand why the hereto compliant and satisfied partner is suddenly angry and unwilling to go along. He may escalate his power plays, eventually using violence or threats of violence, and subdue the innocent, who now is no longer innocent, but mad as hell.  Innocent Meets Innocent (Harmony). When two people who are both innocent meet, the experience is one of harmony and easy communication. There is a flow of friendly feelings and mutual understanding. The meeting of innocent with innocent tends to go unnoticed in the world of control power because innocents tend to have none and are therefore disregarded. But these connections often exist between women or members of the Third World or other oppressed subcultures. The relationship between the meek, gentle people of this world needs to be noticed and understood, because, as the Bible says, it is they who shall inherit the earth. From them we can learn how to be free of power plays with each other. 

Conscious Manipulator Meets Cooperator (Struggle). There are a number of other possible combinations between conscious, cold-blooded players, hotheads, innocents and cooperators which I will not go into, but the confrontation between the conscious player and the cooperator is of particular importance. I am interested in this relationship from the vantage point of the cooperator, which I am endeavoring to be myself. The cold-blooded power player is used to living in a world in which things happen according to his desires. He is convinced that what he wants is reasonable and he believes that to use manipulative methods, including force, to achieve those goals is justified. He will take the offensive to get what he wants. How hard he power-plays depends only on how much energy he has at his disposal. 

If she is hired to be a manipulator, she will spend forty hours a week at it. If she is being a manipulator on her own she will spend all of her waking (and maybe dreaming) hours at it. Very often she operates in a team with others who share her views: and if her team is large enough, she may be in control of enormous amounts of wealth and power. Whether she operates by herself or in a team, she is liable to be powerful because most people in the population are defenseless against an adept manipulator. 

The cooperator, on the other hand, is interested in achieving things by having a maximum number of people participate voluntarily and without being manipulated. Consequently, the manipulator and the cooperator are at cross-purposes in almost any situation and their struggle is one that deserves to be documented.

I will write about that struggle from the point of view of the cooperator, a person who understands power plays and is unwilling to go along with them or use them. The struggle between the conscious manipulator and the cooperator is illustrative of the issues, which I am trying to raise here. The task of the cooperator in a struggle with a conscious manipulator is to identify and detect power plays and to influence the manipulator, without the use of power plays, into desisting from controlling others and becoming more democratic and cooperative in his behavior. Let us look at these steps in closer detail: 

Identifying the Power Play 

Being skilled and knowledgeable in the area of control and power plays is similar to being skilled and knowledgeable in any other area. A person who is skilled will sense a manipulator's purpose and will get warnings that a power play is being mounted. The power move is recognized and is responded to appropriately, and without panic. Being skilled and knowing power plays intimately is not to say that one does not get into tight spots or even succumb to them, but there is a sense of awareness of what is happening and of what to do about it in order to best avoid difficulty. 

Deflecting the Maneuver 

As mentioned previously, there is a strong tendency when one is power-played to retaliate with a stronger power play (escalation) or to give in (submission). The cooperative response is poised between these two extremes. Before anything is done the impact of the power play has to be deflected. Most often when the power play is subtle, it is sufficient, simply, not to respond. For instance if the power play is "Yougotobekidding,' it is enough, in order to deflect the power maneuver to sayy nothing. That doesn't solve the problem, but it stops the power play, since to be effective the maneuver requires a response from the victim. On the other hand if the power play involves fast talk or interruption, it isn't enough to be silent, since that will be seen as acquiescence and be taken as a license to continue in that vein. 

The latter example is a good opportunity to use the Universal Power Play Stopper (UPPS). This little gadget works amazingly well in almost any situation where a power play needs to be deflected. It is lightweight, handy, and can carried in the hip pocket for instantaneous use. The name of this little marvel is WAM (or Wait a Minute!). WAM is effective in most situations as a power-play stopper WAM disrupts the flow of a power play-it is a control stopper sentence that can be used under almost any circumstance in which you are feeling that something is not right, or that you are about to do something you don't want to do or if the wool is being pulled over your eyes. It gives you chance to stop, think, take another look, and decide what you want to do about a given situation. WAM can be said gently, as in "Excuse me, I would like to wait a minute before I make up my mind," or forcefully-"Now, wait one minute!"-depending on the energy of the manipulation being tried. It needs to be used forcefully enough to have the power parity to stop the power play, but not so forcefully as to be an escalation. Accordingly it will not do to sweetly say, "Excuse me, I would like to think this over." to someone who has his or her hands around your throat. Nor will it be correct to roar, "Wait a fucking minute!" to someone who interrupts you in mid-sentence. Fortunately, WAM has a flexible range adaptable to almost any circumstance. 

Choosing a Creative Strategy 

Having deflected the power play and stopped the flow of controlling energy, there is now time and space to think the situation over. If nothing is clarified by a second's reflection, we can ask for a minute or we can ask for an afternoon, or overnight before we act to respond.

This is a good time to talk with other people, read a few books, sleep on it, consult with your dreams-in short, bring into play information about the situation. When power plays become the rule in a situation, there is no point in acting hastily; sometimes only a period of time will bring the needed creative alternative to people's consciousness. Getting information to make a good decision can take days; at other times, it may take just a few seconds to realize what we can do. When we take time to figure out the power play and to recall the antithesis and cooperative response to it, we gain the strength and the practice to exercise the opposition to other people's manipulations which is necessary to replace Control with Cooperation. 

In the ongoing struggle to fend off people's power plays, it is even OK, from time to time, to let things slide. Maybe it's Friday night and you are tired, or you are otherwise occupied, or you are just not up to it right now. At such a time, you may choose to deal with the situation by using an antithesis and postpone the struggle for another day. 

At this point it might be effective to say:

"Those are interesting statistics you are giving me, Mr. Smith. I would like us to spend some time checking them at the library."

Or "That is a difficult choice you are presenting me with Ms. Perez, I have to discuss it with some of my friends." 

You may be surprised to hear me say this: to let things slide seems a major setback. But that is not so. The desire to work together, to share, to take care of each other, and to cooperate is profound in people-in fact, in all species of animals-as Kropotkin shows in his book, Mutual Aid. Taking time to allow the proper conditions to develop, for nature to take its course is sometimes the best action plan. Like a seed, cooperation waits for the conditions in which it can flourish. Our job is to prepare the ground as best we can by learning about control and power plays and by behaving as decently as we know how and as our endurance allows. 

There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country alone who believe in the cooperative struggle. Cooperative nurseries and child-care centers, health clinics and food stores, agricultural cooperatives, democratically owned workplaces and land trusts, alternative birth centers, publisher, newspapers, filmmakers; the list is endless. You can get an idea of who is involved in the Internet. Just go to your nearest search engine and type in: Cooperation. You will find that there are millions of links to explore. 

The people involved in these various projects all agree on one thing: they want to work together as equals, without power plays. They want to put an end to power abuse and hierarchies, they want to live without violence or war, and they want it bad enough to be willing to work at it long and hard. So when you find yourself tired and discouraged with a particularly difficult conscious manipulator, take heart: you are not alone, we are all in this together and we all have our cooperative nature on our side.


Let us now explore the other side of power. 

Click here for Book 3; The Other Side of Power

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