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Classifying different types of power that people can exert over one another in interpersonal communication can help analyze the power balance in any situation. It can assist people in leadership positions exert influence over subordinates, and help one of the parties in an argument or negotiation get the upper hand. From an academic perspective, it can help understand the hierarchical dynamics at play in in interpersonal communication in different societies.
Having expert knowledge about a subject that others value and do not possess themselves can give someone the upper hand in communication. In work situations, the person with the valued knowledge is a person people respect and often refer to for help. However, this does not mean that expert power alone can help a person move through organizational levels because it usually takes leadership, networking skills and management experience to advance through the ranks.
The ability to empathize with subordinates gives a leader referent power in communication. This means that they can identify with how their subordinates feel and think because they can relate back to their own similar experiences in the past. This power can improve interpersonal communication channels across different organizational hierarchies.
Linked closely to expert power, information power refers to the importance of presenting information coherently and logically. Without information power, having expertise would not be as useful as you would never be able to make a compelling case or win an argument or motivate your employees.
Legitimate power in interpersonal communication comes from formal titles, such as manager, owner, parent, teacher and coach. The effectiveness of legitimate power depends on how the person uses it. If a person abuses their authority, they will lose legitimacy and they will become less effective. However, if they use their power judiciously to do good and help people, their power will be enhanced and they will become more effective.
Reward power supports legitimate power. An employee is likely to respond favorably to orders and directions if he receives a tangible reward, such as a better job assignment or a pay raise. Rewards can also be intangible -- for example, verbal approval, encouragement and praise can be as effective as tangible rewards.
The opposite of reward power, coercive power is the ability to punish someone for noncompliance with an order or direction. It complements legitimate power, but in a negative way because compliance is achieved not out of respect, but out of fear. Examples of coercive power include labor union strike threats, denial of promotion or pay raise and litigation.