The Power of Deference

Strategically using deference can boost influence, especially with people who fear losing control.

A synonym for deference is submissiveness.

Typically, being submissive isn’t viewed as a method to garner power but there are situations when using a modest, humble approach is the most effective way to gain influence.

Chris Voss of The Black Swan Group recently published a blog about how to navigate a micromanaging boss. 

What does he recommend?


Voss explains that people who micromanage have an issue with fear. Fear of losing control. Fear of displaying a lack of knowledge or understanding. Fear of appearing in any way “lesser than.” This fear often manifests itself as overly pushy, bullying, and nitpicky behavior.

When dealing with this type of person, he recommends using deference with a side dish of patience.

Employing nonthreatening body language and verbal cues, mirroring of speech, and paraphrasing, especially with individuals who like to feel in control, creates the illusion that they have the upper hand. 

I refer to this as “Powering Down,” an intentional decision to put others at ease rather than fighting fire with fire. 

For many people, using this disarming approach may feel like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. But I assure you, when used in the right interactions with the right people, you will have considerably more sway.

Powering Down can take practice to dial in, but the outcomes achieved through this tactical power approach are worth the investment. 

And, not only will you attain mutually beneficial results, increased communication, and a more robust relationship, you will also have achieved personal mastery of both sides of the power coin.

Powering Down is an intentional use of deference, which puts others at ease and garners trust to maximize influence.

If deference – or Powering Down – is an approach to influence that feels unnatural, here are some simple ways to incorporate it into your power repertoire.

Express Empathy: Show others that you care enough to listen and understand their perspective, concerns, or value their advice and expertise. 

Incorporate Qualifiers: When speaking, use phrases such as It’s my understanding, I think, In my opinion to downplay your perceived power position.

Mirroring: Subtly shift your body language, stance, wording, or vocal tone to reflect that of the person with whom you’re interacting. Be careful not to mimic accents or unique attributes. It’s also important to selectively choose what to mirror. If the other person has adopted an aggressive manner (standing with hands on hips, using intense eye contact, or encroaching on your physical space) it’s important to avoid imitating these behaviors as they may escalate the interaction.

Seek Understanding: Even if you know what the other person is requesting or stating is unnecessary or false, suspend your need to correct them. Instead, be curious and ask questions to unearth the reason behind their request or belief. “How” questions – “I’d love to understand how you came to that conclusion” – are better received than “Why” questions. Often, our curiosity leads to attaining that win/win result.

Understanding how to properly step into our power is a daily practice, not one that is achieved overnight. You are bound to slip up now and again, but soon enough, you’ll become Power-Full. 

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