You recognize the feeling. And it’s not a good feeling.

The email flashes on your screen from “her.” Your nemesis. Every email that comes from her upsets you, because she is so controlling. She denigrates your ideas, undercuts your authority, and questions your approach. And you seethe with frustration, not knowing how to respond. Or at least, not knowing how to respond intelligently and effectively.

You have given away your power.

It can happen with a colleague, a client, or in perhaps the worst-case scenario, a boss. Somewhere along the line, you’ve set up an automatic response to your nemesis, and now everything she (or he) says and does is offensive and wrong.

You have to take your power back. But how?

One of my clients was asked to report to someone with whom she had a long-term, public, horrendous work relationship. She reported to him for quite some time – and every conversation with him annoyed or upset her, and nearly every email exchange convinced her that she needed to find a new job.

We were sitting in her office one afternoon, and she swung around her computer screen to share with me his latest belligerent email, looking for my advice on how to reply. I read the email. Twice. And then asked her, “Imagine I sent you that email. How would it read to you?”

She paused, and sat back in her chair. “Oh,” she quietly mumbled. “It wouldn’t be as upsetting. In fact, I don’t think it would be upsetting at all.”

“You’ve given away your power,” I offered. “Keep pretending the emails are from me, and see how they sit with you then.”

This is a first step to taking back your power – change your perspective by imagining that the snide remarks and cutting emails come from someone you trust and respect, and then noticing if the remarks are as snide or the emails as cutting. In addition to changing your perspective, try these steps to regain your power:

  • Make a choice – Remember that you have a choice whether or not to take offense at what someone does or says. You can choose to get riled, you can choose to counterattack, or you can choose not to let their comments or actions upset you.
  • Take the higher ground – Not only do you not have to take offense to what is thrown your way, you can choose to not respond or even choose to respond with kindness, collegiality, and respect. Just because they play dirty doesn’t mean you have to as well.
  • Watch your back – At the same time, you need to be careful that your nemesis is not actually hurting your team, your reputation, or your ability to do your job successfully. If you believe this person is truly out to get you, you need to make sure that you’re not the only one aware of the situation.
  • Learn from your “mistakes” – Just because you gave away your power once doesn’t mean you have to do it again. Do some internal soul-searching to get a better read on why you react to this person in this way, or how you could have set up your relationship differently from the outset. If you watch yourself and your interactions with curiosity and an open mind, you can most likely notice when you start to give your power away to someone else, so that you can choose not to from the start.

Giving your power away is not a good feeling. But it’s a feeling you can work through and hopefully avoid for the future. Take back your power now.

How do you gain back your power when you’ve given it away?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

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