Powerful people better at shaking off rebuffs, bonding with others

January 18, 2013

Employees often tiptoe around their bosses for fear of offending them. But new research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows people in power have thicker skin than one might think.

A UC Berkeley study has found that people in authority positions – whether at home or in the workplace - are quicker to recover from mild , and will seek out social bonding opportunities even if they've been rebuffed.

"Powerful people appear to be better at dealing with the slings and arrows of social life, they're more buffered from the that rejection typically elicits," said Maya Kuehn, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study. She will present her findings this Friday, Jan. 18, at the annual conference of the Society for Personality and in New Orleans.

Kuehn and her fellow researchers conducted five experiments that examined power dynamics in workplace and in , focusing on how power influences responses to subtle acts of rejection. A total of 445 men and women between ages 18 and 82 participated in the study.

In one experiment, participants were assigned either high- or low-level positions in a workplace, then told they hadn't been invited to an office happy hour gathering. While low-level employees reported feeling stung by this rejection, the high-power ones were relatively unfazed and more likely to seek out other social bonding activities, such as a hiking club, to improve relations with their coworkers.

In another experiment, participants were told they would be working with someone in either a supervisory or a subordinate role. They corresponded with that person and received feedback that could be perceived as a snub or mild rejection. Those who had been assigned supervisory roles acted with indifference to perceived snubs from their underlings while subordinates took offense to comparable from their bosses.

"When rejected instead of accepted, subordinates reported lower self-esteem and greater negative emotion, but supervisors did not show an adverse reaction to rejection," Kuehn said.

A similar power dynamic played out in an experiment involving romantic partners. Couples were brought into a lab setting and videotaped discussing problem-solving tasks, such as what to do if an airplane they were on crashed in the wilderness. Before these discussions, couples had rated each other in terms of who held the most power in their real-life relationships, and how responsive their partners had been to their needs that day.

The study found that the partners who perceived themselves as less powerful were less positive during the videotaped discussion when working on a solution with their mate. By comparison, the more dominant partners acted more upbeat and worked harder at connecting and getting their mates on their side.

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1 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2013
Employees often tiptoe around their bosses for fear of offending them.

False. Employees tiptoe around their bosses for fear of their power.
[P]eople in power have thicker skin than one might think.

The more dominant the individual, the less emotionally sensitive. The more submissive, the more emotionally sensitive. This is well known and can be seen across the animal kingdom. Domestic dogs have been bred from submissive beta wolves. Dogs can readily be seen with their feelings hurt, can the same be seen in alpha wolves? No. Emotions are not an alpha trait.

Powerful people...[a]re more buffered from the negative feelings that rejection typically elicits

True. Again, well known and highly evident. Powerful people aren't as sensitive emotionally, their "feelings", emotional sensitivity isn't as strong. The higher the alpha gradient the lower the "feelings".
1 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2013
Great power requires willingness to sacrifice. Sometimes bad things have to happen for the greater good. Those that are controlled by their emotions allow bad things to come about because 'morals' prohibit them from committing negative acts. Emotions are a weakness that one must overcome in order to act objectively (cerebrally). The alternative is to act upon emotions (the heart).

An example to illustrate what I mean:

A coffee shop with 10 employees is losing business and will be shut down due to 1 of the employees screwing up orders. This 1 employee is the nicest, kindest, individual on the face of the Earth. The employee is a single parent.

A weak boss is unable to fire this employee. In the end all 10 employees (including the inept sweetheart), are left jobless.

A strong boss fires the employee and saves the coffee shop (and the jobs of 9 employees).

A position of power requires willingness to sacrifice.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2013
A faux-alpha soon falls into a depressed state. Depression is what happens when one fights their emotions. A beta in a position of power eventually crumbles. They either don't execute, or they execute and are left with regrets. In either case it is a negative outcome.

Only a true-alpha can execute without remorse.

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