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New Research from Columbia Business School Shows How Power and Pressure Impact Performance

People react to pressure-filled situations in different ways. For many, too much pressure can lead to abject failure. New research from Columbia Business School shows that your power in relationship to others can determine how you respond to the pressure of high-stakes situations and whether you will succeed or fail.

Take the example of a junior employee preparing for a big negotiation with a potential client, one that would be a big win for the company — clearly a high-pressure situation. An additional problem is that the client has more bargaining power because they have a lot of other companies they could choose. How will the junior employee’s lack of negotiating power, in this high-pressure situation, affect their performance?

According to the study, the combination of being less powerful in a high pressure situation is particularly toxic and causes people to underperform. When the pressure is on, feeling powerful can help people rise to the occasion. But when one lacks power, the same pressure leads people to stumble in their performance.

So what is a low-power person to do in a high-pressure situation? The key is to tap into their sources of strength and convictions. This research also found that reflecting on one’s core values eliminated the performance problems caused by the combination of high stakes and low power.

Adam Galinsky, professor of management at Columbia Business School and co-author of the research, said, “Our research shows that building confidence by tapping into one’s values allows people to handle pressure even when they lack power, and as a result to perform well in high-pressure situations.”

Professor Galinsky recently discussed steps on how to become more confident and assertive wthout facing backlash when one lacks power during a TEDx Talk in New York City. The key steps discussed in the talk are:

  1. Advocate for others.
  2. Practice perspective-taking.
  3. Signal flexibility.
  4. Gain allies.
  5. Display expertise and show passion.

The video of his talk has nearly 3 million views and can be seen here: https://www.ted.com/talks/adam_galinsky_how_to_speak_up_for_yourself

The study included three separate experiments that demonstrated how the effects of having power and feeling powerful or powerless affects performance and shows the effect gets magnified when the pressure is ratcheted up. The research, titled “Power Affects Performance When the Pressure Is On: Evidence for Low-Power Threat and High-Power Lift,” was co-authored by Adam Galinsky, professor at Columbia Business School; Sonia K. Kang, professor at the University of Toronto; Laura J. Kray, professor at the University of California, Berkley; and Aiwa Shirako, professor at New York University.

Source: Columbia Business School

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