How to Interact With People: Making Use of Power Dynamics

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Daily Laws" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How would your personal interactions change if you understood human nature better? How might you adjust your behavior based on power dynamics?

According to Robert Greene, everyone seeks power to some degree. Greene advises you to accept that the “game” of power can’t be avoided and learn how to play it to your advantage. If you refuse to accept this reality, you risk being manipulated or sidelined.

Read more to learn how to interact with people in a way that minimizes this risk.

How to Better Interact With People

To use power dynamics to your advantage, Greene says you must first develop a realistic understanding of human nature: People are irrational and driven by emotions, including greed and envy. This knowledge will help you know how to interact with people in a way that takes power dynamics into consideration.

(Shortform note: In Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss also notes the importance of understanding human irrationality, adding that people have two main emotional needs that guide many decisions: the need to feel secure and to feel in control. In line with Greene’s advice to be aware of what drives people, Voss recommends addressing emotions when negotiating with others rather than appealing to logic or rationality.)

To gain power, you must learn how to behave around people with different degrees of power. In many social situations, you’ll encounter people with more power than you and people who want to take power from you. Greene writes that you must curry favor with your superiors and outwit your rivals to put yourself in good social standing.

Praise and honor people who have higher authority than you. When you make them feel superior or subtly compliment them on what they care most about (such as their charitability or intelligence), they’ll naturally want to reward you. Greene cautions you never to overshadow your superiors or you’ll become a threat they’ll want to get rid of.

Greene suggests you convert your rivals into potential allies, if possible, so that they become useful to you. If you can’t do this, he says you must defeat enemies by studying them, targeting their core weaknesses, and undermining their reputations. However, since power dynamics are ever-changing, Greene cautions against ever letting your guard down, since your rivals might become more powerful in the future.

Additional Tips on How to Interact With Others

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie agrees with Greene’s advice to make people feel more important, elaborating on why this approach makes you more likable: You’re validating how important they already feel about themselves. To further boost other people’s feelings of superiority, give praise without asking for anything in return, publicly support their work, and listen to their unique struggles.

While Greene advises you turn rivals into allies when possible, he doesn’t provide deeper insights into how you can achieve this. Carnegie offers advice on how to communicate with people who disagree with you, which may help you get your rival on your side. He suggests you start the conversation by talking about something you both agree on before voicing your differing opinions, but let them speak first. Avoid directly refuting them or forcing your ideas upon them as you’ll only insult their pride and cause them to dislike you more. 

(Shortform note: Psychologists define power as having more control over valuable resources—such as money, information, or status—than others, which allows you to be less dependent on them. How much power you have affects many aspects of your life: Studies have shown that people who feel powerful are more likely to experience positive moods, focus more on rewards (rather than threats), make quicker decisions, and act or express themselves more freely than people who feel powerless. The reason for this, psychologists explain, is that powerful people tend to view the world as less threatening and feel more comfortable presenting their authentic selves.)

How to Interact With People: Making Use of Power Dynamics

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  • Why our beliefs tend to leave us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled
  • How to attune yourself to the reality of how the world really works
  • How to manage your emotions and develop rationality

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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