Acting with Power by Deborah Gruenfeld [Book Summary – Review]

For persons who are either exceptionally talented or viciously driven, strength is often regarded as enigmatic and guarded. But like both interactions, dominance remains. 

Since we rely on each other in numerous respects, we all have a degree of influence over the conditions of other citizens. And although we can be self-serving about how we use our influence, when our purpose is to help people or to accomplish a shared goal, everybody is better off.

This overview includes guidance for how to portray a strong character, much like a professional performer taking the stage, from walking into a new role and shifting it from the top-down to deciding between wasting space or being unassuming. 

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Chapter 1 – Power is the position we portray in the lives of other individuals, and all of us have it in some way or the other. 

Strong reputation, remarkable fortune, and a title’s power. When we encounter the term “wealth,” this is what we want to think of. We conclude that those who have this stuff are naturally strong, but this is not necessarily accurate. 

People may be powerful with rank, income, or the correct label, but so can those without any of these things. Someone about to pull out of a complete car park, for instance, is not strong on their own. But the moment someone else pulls up, waiting patiently to take the parking spot, immediately the first driver has the strength. He will postpone the newcomer if he wishes to, by being in no hurry to depart. 

What tells us in this scenario is that control isn’t just what we have. It has something to do with social interactions, and at any particular time, how much we can influence other individuals and their situations. 

They cause us to rely on each other, whether interactions are professional, intimate, or just with whatever happens to be around. This suggests that everybody, even though it looks or seems like they don’t, has control.

For instance, consider a parent-child relationship. A parent will make the child’s choices and tell her what to do, granting the parent with powers. But if the parent needs their child’s affection and respect, as most parents do, then the right to give or deny this suggests that the child still has some authority. 

Another scenario offers job environments. Employers have control and they can decide who works and how much workers are paid for which tasks. But the right to bargain is given to a worker who is successful at her work and is widely looked after in the sector. 

A manager will now intend to use his influence purely to his gain. He could, for example, hand a hard burden off to a colleague who can’t say no. This is not what strength is about, however. 

Power structures and power relations internally and in the office help, individuals work together for the common benefit and to resolve common problems. That implies we shouldn’t be wondering “What does it do for me?” while worrying about how to utilize the resources we have. Rather, we can ask how we can support other people. 

Chapter 2 – Performing power-up is better used to defend others’ rights. 

Assume attending an improv acting workshop and being asked to play a strong role. How would you have done that? 

Through raising their voices, blocking other actors, and strutting across the scene, most individuals will attempt to gain charge. This proactive activity is named playing power-up, and it is sometimes utilized by performers. It’s their method of getting individuals to value their role on and off the field. 

Playing power-up, however, does not only exist in theatres and acting schools. At college, at home, and in certain other social contexts, people do so. The thing is that, for the correct purposes, they do not always do so. 

Playing power-up in the physical world is a means of exercising dominance over others and demanding loyalty. And there are many ways of achieving so. 

It’s by pulling rank, most frequently. By stressing their power, people follow laws or get others to obey. Henry Ford, for instance, allegedly dismissed workers who challenged him by saying, “My name is on the property.” It’s very difficult to disagree with that! 

It’s also impossible to dispute when someone of authority says no, interrupts you, or avoids you. Likewise, by making a mockery of them, praising them, or judging them, anyone with authority will openly judge subordinates. They can’t argue even though subordinates don’t like it, because they don’t have the jurisdiction. 

It may be disrespectful or violent to play power-up if you do it simply to demonstrate your dominance or bully others. But when people need someone to take the reins or make tough choices, the best answer is precisely to play power-up.

Consider a representative who in a meeting stops the most sociable participant so that other persons can express their thoughts or one who exercises her right to say no to keep a project on schedule and under budget. In all cases, maintaining authority helps the team as a whole. Also, surveys suggest that power-holders who do this are regarded as professional and compassionate. 

But, if you’re compelled to play power-up, ask yourself first whether it’s for the best interests of the people around you, or just for the screen. You would know how to behave depending on the response. 

Chapter 3 – Playing power down is a tool to communicate with individuals and win their trust. 

Let’s move back from the previous section to the improv acting tutorial. The performance coach needs to see a strong character on stage once more. A character shouldn’t control the scene, other than this moment. 

Weird, right? Well, not for a professional performer. 

Playing power-up, as we’ve now heard, can be an important way to express reverence for power and control. But it’s not the only option to play a good part. 

Rather than having the strength of a role on the show, actors frequently do the reverse and play down the power. This involves pretending to be less effective consciously, either by not saying as often or by vanishing into the context. Much as playing power-up, on stage and in actual situations, playing power down has its benefits.

They attempt to look less powerful and less deserving of respect than they are while those with influence downplay it. 

Individuals do so by making a mockery of themselves, letting others decide things, or asking for permission or assistance, for instance. Such acts undermine the dominant leader while raising the awareness and views of those around them. 

Now, if the ability to manipulate entities and make things happen is force, why does anyone want not to play power up? One explanation is that a means of people-pleasing or trying to pass the buck may be to play power down. But this isn’t how you can use this strategy. 

Playing power down is how rulers display a desire to engage with, and not just dominate, individuals. It’s a means of illustrating that those in control are more worried about collaborating than retaining rank. As learned by two investors at the top venture capital company, Sequoia Capital, this dismantles individuals and inspires trust.

Their first impulse was to leverage the power and benefits attached to the company while attempting to attract a young female CEO. This has failed, so they have agreed to play down their strength. They approached her dressed in Toy Story outfits after discovering that their potential recruit was fond of dressing up as comic book characters. Seeing these high-powered men on her account acting so ridiculous convinced the CEO that they would do anything to get her happy. On the location, she joined the squad!

Chapter 4 – A productive means of embodying a new task is to use creativity, accessories, and costumes. 

Imagine this: you’ve just been appointed to senior management after years of paying your dues. Instantly, if appropriate, you have to lead a team and the higher-ups want you to confront them. Yet you’re not certain you’re up for it, even though you’ve been constantly working for this raise. You sound nothing like a senior boss, after all.

This case is much like what occurs in a new role when an actor is hired. They are given scenarios and plots to study and, however unfamiliar it sounds, have to completely embrace the role. Fortunately, there are a few methods for actors to help them get into character, and they can also work for you. 

Success in a new profession means acting in ways that can feel out of the usual. A variation of the Stanislavski process, the brainchild of the Russian actor, producer, and director Konstantin Stanislavski, is one way that actors do this believably. 

Stanislavski urged actors, both on and off the set, to view the world from the viewpoint of their characters. Many actors visualize the things that happen to their characters “as if” they are happening to them, taking his suggestion. This is recognized as The Magic If practice, and when she had to retain her calm as a witness in court, it was useful for the writer. 

The writer centered on a TV character, while she felt weak, who was the absolute description of powerful and brave. If she was that person, the writer pictured how she would dress and handle herself. Doing so encouraged her to resolve her fears and behave with the confidence required by the defense team. 

Therefore, the next time you feel unprepared for a new position, consider how you’d respond if you were precisely who and what the role required. 

Another actor’s technique is to use costumes and accessories for a certain role and get into the right mood. Dressing differently and holding props determine how individuals act and how others react to them. 

For example, a senior executive might stroll around with a planner that looks significant or act in a way that makes him feel more secure. Dresses, in particular, really have an impact that the term “suit up” is now generally used to define training for an important mission. 

Chapter 5 – Prioritize the job and the purpose of the group to play a supportive role properly. 

When you envision a career as an actress, what comes up? If every production has top billing, you’re not the only one. Most individuals want to be the show’s protagonist, the significant one with more influence than anybody else.

Yet we can’t all-star in the movie, just as not all of us can be the boss at work. We have different positions instead: of leading actors and cast staff, and superiors and employees. 

For these environments to act as they ought to, everybody has to play their role, even the supporting cast. This brings the power of its own to those in supporting positions, and using that power well means learning how to execute the role.

There’s typically a big-picture target of every business or team that everyone is working for. Each position is intended to help get forward to the target. 

And yet individuals also see subordinate positions for themselves as stepping stones to something larger. This is an error. Your intention should be to generate good consequences for the community while you fill a position. 

This attitude gives you the trust of colleagues and higher-ups, and in the long term, it will also contribute to greater possibilities. Other than that, you can quickly spot positions with opportunity for effect when you’re centered on the project and not your rank. 

This was discovered by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer when she nearly skipped an opportunity to join Google since she thought the position was too limited. Clear but spot-on, the suggestion that changed her perspective was: when you’re given a seat on a space rocket, you’re not asked which spot, you’re just getting on board.

You may also establish confidence by valuing your tasks or your art, in addition to concentrating on the task. You demonstrate that you are more focused on making a meaningful effort than receiving attention when you do this. 

When you take one for the side, it’s the equivalent, maybe by offering to put in more hours to ensure that the project meets the timeline. It enhances loyalty and raises your standing by actually listening to what the community wants and making a personal effort to ensure it satisfies those needs.

Chapter 6 – Cure anxiety by practicing, getting warmed up, and not relying on yourself while taking on a huge, more effective task. 

Many individuals, whether in peer communities, family set-ups, or at work, the dream of holding strong positions. Yet it can be frightening to move into such positions.

People also doubt their skills and fear being criticized, which keeps them from making effective use of their power. For instance, they might resist making difficult decisions for fear of being kept responsible. Or they could give priority to being loved and end up making the wrong choices. 

Actors often feel uncertainty over success, however, they have ways of handling it. Their policies may also be extended to off-stage roles.

How are you going to get to Carnegie Hall? Training, training, training! It may be an old saying, but in their many practice sessions, it’s really what actors do. 

It becomes a routine when you do things over and over again. So, you transform unknown behaviors into conduct that seems normal by rehearsing what a good position entails. As a consequence, in your role, you start feeling confident. 

But rehearsing is not about thinking over what you’re planning to say. Incorporating as much information as possible is more efficient. For starters, the writer puts on her costume, takes out her accessories, and strolls like she’s on a scene while practicing for a chat. She gets completely absorbed in the play in this manner. 

Before a crucial meeting or other circumstance where you need to demonstrate strength, whether you have rehearsed but still feel nervous, another tactic is to get aggressive. Warm-ups can eliminate a lot of nervousness, such as relaxing, walking, or deep breathing. And, they detach you from feelings of fear, making you feel more relaxed. 

Talking of distractions, this is another form in which performers struggle on stage with anxiety. 

When you’re concentrating on how you feel or what people may think, it is hard to truly get into character. So, performers attempt to reflect on other things, such as the other performers on stage. The writer focuses on the persons surrounding her by using this method and how they may react, but you should still concentrate on noises or items surrounding you. 

Chapter 7 – When bullies get to us, we have the strength to stop being the targets of bullies and to recover our stories. 

We hear about people exploiting authority all too often these times. News stories revealing corrupt politicians and reporting big controversies both imply that the worst of persons is brought out of influence.

But the issue is not power itself. In most situations, there are some insecurities in people that misuse authority, and then they use the leverage they receive to make themselves feel stronger. 

Seeking power and authority urgently will turn us into bullies and when we meet them, it’s common to feel insecure. This doesn’t imply, though, that we are. Really, by behaving differently, we will assert our authority and turn the tables.

We ought to recognize them before they hit if we don’t want to be the victim of bullying. It implies knowing what to watch out for. For instance, we must avoid people who don’t take no for a response, or others who judge others harshly, even though they’re good to us. 

We should also avoid areas that may feel inspired by bullying. In the same manner, as offenders frequently strike in dark alleys or silent streets, authority violations appear to occur where they are not noticed by anyone else. Personal situations or areas where standard regulations do not apply are instances of this, like staff sessions in the workplace or after hours. 

Regrettably, we will all become victims of bullying, and with these safeguards. We must act in ways that would discourage them in these situations. 

One tactic is to behave indifferently by what they are doing. Those exploiting authority like watching their targets frustrated, upset, or afraid. Yet we become dull targets if we don’t take the bait, and they carry on.

Another technique is to point out bad behavior calmly as it happens. This passes the authority to us and helps the suspect to recognize that they are being monitored. 

If through our attempts to stop or discourage them, we fall victim to bullies, becoming a survivor doesn’t have to be our narrative. By eliminating any responsibility that we might put on ourselves, we can reclaim our strength. 

It can make us victims for other bullies or contribute to self-destructive actions by thinking that we induced or warranted the violence. Yet it gets simpler to get beyond the event and to get on with our life as we know that we’re not at blame. 

Chapter 8 – Using authority as a leader involves leading and watching out for people and raising individuals who are doing the same.

 “Great duty comes with great power.” This quotation has been credited to the philosopher Voltaire, the British politician Winston Churchill, and also the uncle of Spiderman! Yet the intent is simple, even though the background is unclear.

There is immense influence among the individuals at the very top of an organization or community, and how they use it affects all. Being accountable for this influence means utilizing it to the good of others around them. Setting the course, building a comfortable environment, and fulfilling key positions are all involved. 

It’s crucial in a company to have a vision and a common goal. Without these, the rivalry of self ambitions and efficiency is virtually impossible. Therefore, as the highest-ranking individual, a leader must use their influence to identify and improve the ultimate target. This lays the groundwork for each individual to achieve significant contributions. 

But the organization has to be an inspiring environment and is protected from misuse of influence, for all to make their best effort. Which falls on the chief as well. They should be an indicator of acceptable behavior, and when violations of authority happen under their watch, they should be swift to respond.

A perfect instance of this is how the U.S. As African American cadets at the Air Force Academy became targets of racist remarks, Air Force Lieutenant General Jay Silveria replied. He gathered all 6,500 cadets, faculty, and staff, and made it known that the academy was no space for those of honor and respect who could not treat anyone.

Leaders will also create an ideal setting, in addition to protecting others, as the Lieutenant General did, by supporting those who are also dedicated to using power well. Three traits will set these persons apart. 

An emphasis on accomplishment is the first. This suggests that a person is more interested in learning ability and doing their work well than with moving up the ranks rapidly. 

Comfort is the second attribute to search for. Applicants should be concerned with others and eager to help them excel. 

A reasoned attitude to power is the third and final standard. A nominee should see influence as an instrument to assist people, and they should know how to use it to represent the organization as a whole better.

Acting with Power: Why We Are More Powerful Than We Believe by Deborah Gruenfeld Book Review

It does not suffice to have strength. Based on your priorities and duties, you have to decide how and when to turn things up or down. Often, to defend others, you’ll need to demonstrate your authority. In tough circumstances, this could involve taking charge, pointing out misuse of authority, or raising others who would still use authority to contribute to a common task. At all times, the development of trust and building relationships would take precedence. This is where, by deferring to others or not taking yourself too literally, you will have to play power down. Although you won’t always feel capable of exerting control, you will find the courage to own every role by imaging various realities, prepping your position, and concentrating on others or the greater image. 

Shield others through being a good upstander.

It also feels less dangerous to be a bystander when you experience misuse of authority. But if you make the decision, considering the personal consequences, to point out bad behavior, your efforts will inspire others to do the same. So, next time you see someone exploiting their authority, put yourself on stage in the role of a performer, not an audience member. Take action, then and right there. Give your support afterward if that’s not feasible.

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Savaş Ateş

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