Mary Marvel, the world's mightiest girl, Marvel Comics, illustrator Jack Binder, 1941 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Ideas for Leaders #289

Priming Power to Influence and Persuade

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Key Concept

New research confirms that simply remembering a personal experience with power can increase a person’s appearance of confidence, command and persuasiveness in either the written form or a face-to-face meeting. The researchers focused on job application and interview settings, but the findings can easily apply to a variety of situations.

Idea Summary

Previous research demonstrated that a sense of power can give a person increased confidence and reduce that person’s stress — two outcomes that can only enhance the effectiveness of that person in interview or meeting settings. Through two experiments, a team of international researchers confirmed the interpersonal impact of momentary changes in power that can come from what they call ‘power priming’. In other words, recalling a personal experience with power just before an interview, a meeting, or even writing a letter will not only change how people feel about themselves, but also change how others view them.

In their experiments, the researchers specifically focused on the impact of power priming in job interviews and job applications. In the first experiment, the researchers asked applicants to write about an experience in which they had power or lacked power. The applicants were then asked to write an application letter for an actual position (they were told to assume they had the relevant education and experience). The letters were given (by lab assistants) to other participants playing the role of interviewers. The results showed that interviewers were more likely to offer the job to applicants who had been power primed (by writing about an experience of power).

The second experiment was similar to the first, except that applicants engaged in one-on-one mock interviews with interviewers. (The researchers noted that the participants, being undergraduates hoping to be accepted into business school, took the mock interviews seriously since such mock interviews were a key component of their preparation). Once again, the power-primed candidates were more likely to be ‘accepted’ by the interviewers, who also rated the power-primed candidates as being more persuasive.

Business Application

Recent research on the psychological effect of power has focused on the individual: how power impacts a person’s thinking or behaviour. The revelation of this research is that the psychology of power also has an interpersonal effect as well; a person simply thinking about a personal powerful experience will cause others to react differently as a result. This elevates the technique of power priming to an effective management or leadership tool since it can be used in any setting that requires influence or persuasion. Thus, although the research was focused on the impact of power priming on job interviews, the unequivocal results reveal a powerful preparation tool for any difficult meeting or presentation in which command and confidence is required. 

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Idea conceived

  • July 2013

Idea posted

  • December 2013

DOI number



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