Organizational behaviour | Knowledge and power


Much of the recent sociological debate on power revolves around the issue of the enabling nature of power. A comprehensive account of power has been discussed in the report i.e power of knowledge, power of money and power of social class and the ways in which these powers can be altered in the future. Much of this debate is related to the works of the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984), who, following the Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), sees power as “a complex strategic situation in a given society [social setting]”. Being deeply structural, his concept involves both constraint and enablement


Power is one of the most important determinants of managerial effectiveness. Bennis and Nanus (1985) regarded it, as the basic energy needed to initiate and sustain actions. It is a factor without which, leaders cannot lead. It provides the capacity to translate intentions into reality. Power is at the essence of managerial actions and leadership. It can be defined as the potential ability to influence behavior, to change the course of events, to overcome resistance and to get people do things that they would not otherwise do (Pfeffer, 1981)

Balance of Power

Because power operates both relationally and reciprocally, sociologists speak of the balance of power between parties to a relationship: all parties to all relationships have some power: the sociological examination of power concerns itself with discovering and describing the relative strengths: equal or unequal, stable or subject to periodic change. Sociologists usually analyse relationships in which the parties have relatively equal or nearly equal power in terms of constraint rather than of power. Thus ‘power’ has a connotation of unilateralism. If this were not so, then all relationships could be described in terms of ‘power’, and its meaning would be lost.

Even in structuralist social theory, power appears as a process, an aspect to an ongoing social structure. One can sometimes distinguish primary power: the direct and personal use of force for coercion; and secondary power, which may involve the threat of force or social constraint, most likely involving third-party exercisers of delegated power.

Etzioni (1961) talked about two kinds of power: position power and persona/power

Position power refers to ability to induce or influence others behavior because of one’s position in the organization. French and Raven’s (1959) legitimate power can be considered position power. Employees obey the orders of those who have formal authority or position power

Taking my position as the ticket consultant, I find that I’ve several powers that are directed towards both seniors and subordinates. One of the powers is persona/ power. i e this is where individuals derive their power from their own skills and efforts. Persona/ power is the extent to which subordinates are willing to follow the leader. This personal power has extended my affection, love, consideration, encouragement, recognition and attachment. Bass, Wurster and Alcock (1961) found that people want to be valued and esteemed mainly by those whom they value and respect. Therefore people bestow such persons with personal power. It is therefore clear that personal power comes from below and can be taken away more quickly by the subordinates as compared to position power. French and Raven’s Referent Power and Expert power would form part of personal power.

Other than the personal power, which calls for respect from the seniors, there is also the power of authority. This power is mostly directed to the subordinates in the office. It can be subdivided into:

Line authority. This is the authorityover subordinates inmy chain ofcommand. However this authority corresponds directly to the place within my chain of command and does not exist outside my chain of command i.e this power cannot be exercised beyond my department

Staff authority. This is the rightof staff to counsel, advice, or make recommendations to line personnel, and as a member of staff, I feel this is one of the powers that I possess. This type of authority though doesn’t give me the right to give line personnel orders that affect the mission of the line organization

The managers, possess the power of authority and position power over their subordinates of which am one. Position power and authority have been interchangeably used in the present times based on Etizioni’s findings. This is by applying various tactics, some of which are:

Authority to sanction, i.e. any permission or approval that makes any course of action valid is under them. Therefore any intention to misuse their power and an important idea seeking their approval results to waste. This influential principle dictates what and when.a choice is to be made. Michener and Burt (1975) examined factors responsible for leadership success in eliciting compliance. They reported that compliance was greater when leaders explained that their demands as good for the group, had power to punish persons who did not comply to the leaders’ commands, and had a legitimate right to make demands on subordinates. Another study (Gamson, 1968) suggested that leaders would shift toward coercion of subordinates if they perceived that they lacked subordinates’ approval but did have the legitimate authority for asking for compliance

Authority to Reward i. e having the final say in matters pertaining to promotions, working is directed towards trying to appease the seniors, with a notion of hard work recognition that will lead to a promotion. This results to award of promotions without merit considerations.

Persuasiveness contributes positively to powerfulness of managers while appeasement and doing favors to superiors contributes negatively to the same. Powerful managers perceive their subordinates’ behavior relatively more positively. Enforcing discipline, pressure for compliance, persuasiveness and authority to reward emerge then as important influence strategies to arrest dysfunctional employee behaviors. Exchange of favors on the other hand seems to be ineffective influence strategy as it helps in thriving dysfunctional employee behavior.

Knowledge (granted or withheld, shared or kept secret)

Knowledge can be expressed as expertise and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject or what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information

As a sale consultant, Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, learning, communication, association and reasoning. Knowledge also helps sale consultant in understanding subject matter with the ability to use it for a specific purpose if appropriate.

Situated knowledge is knowledge specific to a particular situation. A sale consultant can use various methods of generating knowledge, such as trial and error, or learning from experience, tend to create highly situational knowledge. One of the main benefits of the scientific method is that the theories it generates are much less situational than knowledge gained by other methods.[citation needed] Situational knowledge is often embedded in language, culture, or traditions.[citation needed]

Knowledge generated through experience is called knowledge “a posteriori”, meaning afterwards. The pure existence of a term like “a posteriori” means this also has a counterpart. In this case that is knowledge “a priori”, meaning before. The knowledge prior to any experience means that there are certain “assumptions” that one takes for granted. For example if you are being told about a chair it is clear to you that the chair is in space, that it is 3D. This knowledge is not knowledge that one can “forget”, even someone suffering from amnesia experiences the world in 3D. See also: a priori and a posteriori.

There is also partial knowledge. This whereby one discipline of epistemology focuses on partial knowledge. In most realistic cases, it is not possible to have an exhaustive understanding of an information domain, so then we have to live with the fact that our knowledge is always not complete, that is, partial. Most real problems have to be solved by taking advantage of a partial understanding of the problem context and problem data. That is very different from the typical simple maths problems one might solve at school, where all data is given and one has a perfect understanding of formulas necessary to solve them.

This idea is also present in the concept of bounded rationality which assumes that in real life situation people often have a limited access of information and take decision accordingly.

Another implication of knowledge is the scientific knowledge. The development of the scientific method has made a significant contribution to understanding of knowledge. Majoring on this concept of knowledge, a sale consultant has to be equipped with a method of inquiry which is based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. Science and the nature of scientific knowledge has also become the subject of Philosophy. As science itself has developed, knowledge has developed a broader usage which has been developing within biology/psychology-discussed elsewhere as meta-epistemology, or genetic epistemology, and to some extent related to “theory of cognitive development”.

Power of Persuasion

Persuasion is a form of social influence. It is the process of guiding people and oneself toward the adoption of an idea, attitude, or action by rational and symbolic (though not always logical) means.

Persuasion methods are also sometimes referred to as persuasion tactics or persuasion strategies therefore as sale consultant, one need to be equipped with these methods for effective running of the organization. These methods include:

  • Reciprocity – This is where by sale consultant tends to return a favor. This is especially when one feels something good has been done and needs to appreciate the effort.
  • Commitment and Consistency – Once people commit to what they think is right, orally or in writing, they are more likely to honor that commitment, even if the original incentive or motivation is subsequently removed. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy.
  • Social Proof – This is where by people tend to do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. Social value of unfamiliar people is ambiguous and requires a lot of effort to assess accurately. Given limited time and motivation, other people will often evaluate others based on how surrounding people behave towards them. For example, if a man is perceived to be in a company of attractive women, or is associated with them, then his perceived social value and attractiveness will be perceived to be greater. The implied cognition in this case would be “All those girls seem to really like him, there must be something about him that’s high value”.

If he is seen to be rejected by many women, his social value will be judged negatively. The implied cognition is then “I just saw him being rejected by many women, there is probably a good reason why they don’t like him”.

  • Liking – People are easily persuaded by other people whom they like. People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Some of the many biases favoring more attractive people are discussed, but generally more aesthetically pleasing people tend to use this influence excellently over others.
  • Scarcity – Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a “limited time only” encourages sales.

Propaganda is also closely related to Persuasion. It’s a concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of large numbers of people. Instead of impartially providing information, propaganda in its most basic sense presents information in order to influence its audience. The most effective propaganda is often completely truthful, but some propaganda presents facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis, or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the cognitive narrative of the subject in the target audience. The term ‘propaganda’ first appeared in 1622 when Pope Gregory XV established the Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith. Propaganda was then as now about convincing large numbers of people about the veracity of a given set of ideas. Propaganda is as old as people, politics and religion.

Sources of power can provide organizational members with a variety of means for enhancing their interests and smoothing over or creating organization conflict.. For example, some people derive power because they have been given authority by the organization to tell others what to do.Other people might have particular expertise or knowledge which the organization is dependent on, which gives them power.Some individuals might not have formal authority or expertise but might be very popular and thus have power through their own personal. The following are some of the sources

Formal authority: This is when one is the legitimate owner of an organization, is the chief executive officer, or the general manager, one can use this authority to make crucial decisions in an organization whether good or bad.

Use of organizational structure, rules and regulations can change the scope of working in an organization.

Ability to cope with uncertainty: this feeling makes one have an advantage over the rest of the members of an organization since one feels that the organization will depend on your idea once anything happens.

Interpersonal alliances, networks, and control of “informal organization” : if one is capable of uniting the entire workforce, the seniors will hold you as a valuable asset which can be used in case of a conflict. The same is also true when maybe a manager possesses these traits over his/her subordinates .i.e. he/she can use them to convince the subordinates in case of a misunderstanding.

Symbolism and the management of meaning: This is applicable to managers whose record of management is high and who lead by example. This makes the subordinates to fear and respect the senior.

Some may also possess the power to control: scarce resources,decision processes knowledge and information, boundaries, technology, counter organizations. With this power of control, the organization’s development is determined by how you use it.

Sources of power depend upon mainly three abilities whish are: reduce uncertainty, lack of substitutes and centrality of activities. Uncertainty: resource control, information control, decision making control, substitutability, centrality and managing the boss.

Since most of us work in socially intricate organizations where we need the help not only of subordinates but of colleagues, superiors, and outsiders to accomplish our goals, its important for us to bridge the power gap so formed because we must depend on people over whom we have little or no explicit control.

Hence all members of an organization should use the interpersonal power relations that include, reward power, coercive power, legitimate power, reference power and expert power

In reward power, the needs and wants of the people are put into consideration and their actions appreciated.

In coercive power credible penalties are identified to deter unacceptable behavior and when done effectively rules and targets can be set.

Reward and coercive power depend on the agent’s ability to bestow on the client’s positive and negative outcomes, respectively. Using either of these bases will induce only a superficial change in the client; that is, none of the client’s privately held beliefs, attitudes, or values are changed. Instead, only public compliance is obtained, the continuation of which depends on successful surveillance of the client by the agent.

In the legitimate power, formal power can be used to maintain it while for effectiveness; politeness and sending of requests are applied. Its based on the target’s belief that the agent has a legitimate right to exert influence, and that the target has an obligation to accept this influence. It leads to private acceptance that comes from within the target and as such it does not require surveillance by the agent in order to be successful.

To maintain reference power, managers should show acceptance and positive regards and for effectiveness, they should use personal appeals where necessary. It depends on the target’s identifying with the agent. It leads to private acceptance by the target through enabling the target to maintain a satisfactory relationship with the agent and see himself/herself as similar to the target on certain relevant dimensions.

To maintain expert power managers should earn more relevant knowledge and try to explain the needs and reasons for request of proposals.

Expert power of the agent depends on the target’s attributing superior knowledge or experience to the agent. When such faith in the agent is present, expert power will again result in private acceptance on the part of the target.

Contrary to the bases of power discussed above, informational is independent both of the person of the agent and of the agent’s relationship with the target, and is instead based on the perceived relevance and validity of the information. A related discussion of social influence processes in terms of compliance, identification, and internalization is offered by Kelman (1956, 1961; Raven, 1974).

Bosses should also use power ethically i.e. ethical power means using logical power in the favor of humanity which comes from managers characters. There are some processes that use ethical power in a firm or organization which are: Reward power in ethical way should be used by managers as means to verify, compliance, make feasible and reasonable requests etc. Hence, all powers should be used ethically by all managers and all members of any organization.

  • References

    1. Cervero, R., & Wilson, A. (1994). Planning Responsibly for Adult Education: A Guide to Negotiating Power and Interests. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    2. Cervero, R. M., & Wilson, A.L. (1998). “Working the planning table: The political practice of adult education.” Studies in Continuing Education, 20, 5-21.

    3. Drennon, C.E., & Cervero, R.M. (2002). “The politics of facilitation: Negotiating power and politics in practitioner inquiry groups.” Adult Education Quarterly, 52, 193-209.

    4. Robbins Stephen P. (2003), Organizational Behavior (Tenth Edition), Prentice Hall of India Private Ltd.

    5. Aswathappa K. (1991), Organisational Behaviour: Text, Cases and Games, Himalaya Publishing House.

    6. Singh Yogendra & Pandey Mamta (2004), Organisational Behaviour, A.I.T.B.S. Publishers.

    7. Fincham Robin & Rhodes Peter (2005), Principles of Organisational Behaviours, Oxford Press.