Cover image for The power manual : how to master complex power dynamics / Cyndi Suarez.
The power manual : how to master complex power dynamics / Cyndi Suarez.
Publication Information:
Gabriola, BC : New Society Publishers, 2018.

Physical Description:
vii, 183 pages ; 23 cm
"The Power Manual explores major concepts of power, with a focus on the dynamics of domination and liberation. The first part weaves together leading thinking on power and looks at how it is deployed and transformed in society. The back end provides practical workshop exercises for learning how to shift power relations."-- Provided by publisher.


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Material Type
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303.3 SUA Book Adult General Collection

On Order



Liberate yourself by understanding and mastering power dynamics

All social relations are laden with power. Getting out from under dominant power relations and mastering power dynamics is perhaps the most essential skill for change agents across all sectors seeking to ignite positive change in the world.

This concise action manual explores major concepts of power, with a focus on the dynamics of domination and liberation, and presents methods for shifting power relations and enacting freedom. The Power Manual

Clearly distills the major theories of power from post-modern and feminist theory to business management and developmental psychology, and beyond Examines key ways that power is deployed and transformed in society Presents a new theory of power based on enactment-the bringing of something to life through one's actions Explains how to refuse powerless identities and enact powerful ones Helps readers choose egalitarian interactions over domination Demonstrates mastering the process of power expansion Features workshop games and group activities for identifying and shifting power relations.

This accessible action manual is ideal for change agents, leaders, and activists across all nonprofit and business sectors aiming to understand, master, and shift power relations.

Author Notes

Cyndi Suarez works with leaders in nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and social movements, including most recently the Movement for Black Lives and Dreamers. She has an MS in Nonprofit Management from Southern New Hampshire University, and studied Feminist Theory at the New School for Social Research. Suarez is Senior Editor at Nonprofit Quarterly, the leading nonprofit journal. She lives in Boston, MA.



Effective Interactions Supremacist Power and Liberatory Power Max was one of the first black students admitted into elite private schools on the east coast of the United States. While his parents sent him to these schools to receive a quality education, to make it through Max also learned to navigate difficult, social dynamics. He recalls that when he was in eighth grade, there was a white kid who was always making fun of him. As one of the few black kids, Max had been picked on a lot. "A black kid is someone who is clearly different on the outside," Max said. Eventually, Max decided he wasn't going to give this kid any more attention. This annoyed the kid, who tried different ways to regain the upper hand. He eventually began to be nice to Max, in hopes of getting his attention again, to no avail. Their peers noticed this shift in attention-of power-and the kid lost their esteem. Max was learning how to perceive and shift power dynamics. We all want power. The power to attract the love we want. The power to create what we want to see in the world. The power to avoid harm. But what is power? And how does one obtain power, especially if one is defined as powerless by society, as black people are? Power is, first of all, relational. It operates in relationships of inequality where we seek advantage and so is intentional. On the other hand, we are lessened by the inability to assert equality of right and opportunity in an interaction. Power is not about the rule of law, institutions, society, or the state. These are simply the dead forms, or artifacts, that result from past power laden interactions, or confrontations. Power is exercised, not acquired. Everyday interactions contain aims and objectives that make the exercise of power visible and understandable. Power is also never absolute. There is always resistance. Power is a force field of relationships based on inequality. Often times leaders or change activists think that if they create and implement new structures, they can shift the way people in an organization interact. Focusing instead on creating collective understanding of how people are currently interacting and their desired ways of interacting can lead to exponential and immediate change. For example, Otto Scharmer and Ursula Versteegen worked with a network of physicians in an area of Frankfurt, Germany to improve emergency care service. They began by conducting over 100 interviews with both patients and physicians. They then invited the people interviewed to share the results. Almost 100 attended. The interviews revealed four different levels at which patients and physicians could relate. The first level was transactional. The patient comes in with a problem and the physician fixes it. It is like a machine with a broken part that a mechanic repairs. The second level was behavioral. Here the physician tells the patient the behavior he has to change, and the patient tries to change it. In the third, the assumptive, the physician helps the patient understand the assumptions that underlie the behavior to be changed, and the patient works to question and change the assumption. In the fourth, the identity level, the physician helps the patient understand how the illness may indicate a need to let go of an old identity and explore a new one. Meeting participants then broke into small groups and talked about what the levels meant to them. They then identified the level(s) that they were currently functioning within and the one(s) they desired. The final tally revealed that both patients and physicians felt they were functioning at levels one and two, and both wanted to function at three and four. They realized that they wanted the same thing and that the system was them, what they chose to enact. With this new awareness, participants spoke about how this was true in their own work and thought of ways they could behave differently. Participants began to share ideas and went on to work on many projects together, including an innovative emergency care system. Useful liberation practices focus on effective interactions-interactions that disrupt dominating behavior (the taking of more than one's share), and generate mutuality (practicing reciprocity in relationships). There are two key points regarding effective interactions-(1) one must constantly refuse powerless identities in interactions, and (2) one can build one's capacity for effective interactions. It is in everyday, interactions that one either contributes to unequal power dynamics or interrupts them. To assert one's own power in a way that promotes mutuality, one must know the type of power one seeks. There are two fundamental types of power. One is the ability to dominate, or control, people and things. This power rests on relative rank and the privilege of being at the top. It reflects a supremacist way of thinking-an acceptance of relationships of domination and submission. Supremacist power is a crude form of power, related to scarcity consciousness, or the belief that the world holds limited supplies of the things we want-love, power, recognition. An alternative type of power is liberatory power-the ability to create what we want. Liberatory power requires the transformation of what one currently perceives as a limitation. A key lever of liberatory power is one's ability to decide for oneself, and sometimes others, for the good for all. It requires abundance consciousness-the belief in the plentifulness of something, or the ability to think in unlimited ways. The distinction between these two types of power is important. People committed to liberation often focus on the domination aspects of power, on understanding the ways some people are made powerless by others. Though there is much to understand about this type of power and how it works, focusing on it often limits the attention one gives to the ways one does assert power-a critical aspect of liberatory power. One can build one's capacity for liberatory power. It requires a commitment to living mindfully, constantly increasing one's level of awareness, so that when one finds oneself in an interaction that positions one as powerless, one is able to perceive it, keep calm, and assert mutuality. Further, liberatory power, helps one refrain from asserting power over others, or to do so carefully. Another key lever of liberatory power is narrative. The stories one tells oneself and others transmit or transmute power. Max decided not to give his tormentor any more attention. He revised the story to make him insignificant, and it worked. The story about what is happening shapes reality, particularly whether one is positioned as powerless or powerful. Liberatory power invites one to construct a story about oneself as powerful because, over time, one is able to create what one wants in life. One is able to move through the force field of relationships without taking on the low opinion of others, or opining lowly of others. So, there are three core propositions-(1) that there are both supremacist and liberatory ways to act out power, (2) that liberatory power is real power, and (3) that one can access liberatory power by fine tuning one's consciousness. Questions for Consideration in Interactions What were the most immediate, the most local, power relationships at work? What narrative(s) make this power relationship possible? How is this power relationship linked to other power relationships to form a strategy for dominance? How was the power relationship modified in the interaction, strengthening some terms and weakening others? Interaction Patterns Patterns of Domination and Patterns of Resistance Artemis is a student of power and liberation. As a young girl growing up in a black neighborhood, she learned at an early age to navigate social dangers. She went on to college, and then to graduate school, deepening her knowledge and experience of power and liberation. As she moved into the social change field, she realized that the fight for liberation is actually a journey towards enlightenment. The concept of difference is central to interactions in relationships of inequality. Humans have used differences to value, divide, and structure society-as with race, gender, class, age, and sexuality. One's relationship to difference impacts one's interactions, either reinforcing these structures of value, or interrupting them. The supremacist approach to power offers two options for dealing with difference-ignore it, or view it as cause for separation. A liberatory approach views differences as strengths and entertains interdependence as an option. For the dominant, embracing difference requires one to face one's fear of the subordinate, the other, and allow oneself to be changed, grow, and be redefined by one's encounters. For the subordinate, the change that needs to occur in the space between difference and interdependence is a move away from dominant, or supremacist, ways of thinking. These are narratives that position one as powerless. For Artemis, it turned out that the field of social change was a perfect arena of study for power and liberation. One way she saw the fear of difference show up in even this work, was in the demand for shared analysis and strategies for social change. Rather than the civic engagement and policy practitioners be happy for and work with the civil disobedience activist, they critiqued them and dismissed them as people who did not yet know how things really worked. Once, Artemis was in Worcester, a town an hour away from Boston, her hometown. She was working on the electoral campaign of a white man running for state representative. It was a comfortable fall day and she was told by the leaders at the campaign office that she had an easy district to canvass, a progressive neighborhood overwhelmingly in support of our candidate. As the day was coming to an uneventful end, Artemis, on the last block on her list, the clipboard in her hand, saw a young, white family get out of a pick up truck that had just pulled into a driveway up ahead. She looked, hesitant to walk over and talk to them, but the woman waved Artemis over to ask about her candidate. It turned out that she was working on the opponent's team and was curious about the messages her candidate was putting out on Artemis's candidate. As Artemis listened to the issues that she cared about framed so negatively, she thought about how to engage this woman, who was spitting with conviction as she talked, ready to defend her beliefs. The woman went on to say that she and her husband, to whom she gestured, worked hard to buy their house and raise a child. In contrast to a friend she had who cheated the system. This friend didn't work and "figured out" ways to get subsidized housing and food subsidies. The woman said she could imagine that there were more people like her friend, riding on the backs of hard working people like herself and her husband. Artemis realized that her body felt tense, she was anxious. She was not used to talking to someone with this perspective. Though a woman of color, she lived in a bubble of college educated, racially diverse, social change practitioners and activists. Clearly, Artemis and this woman both wanted the same things-safety, adequate resources, and the ability to pursue personal happiness. Finally, the words came, "I am glad that the system worked for you and your family, but it didn't work for me. My husband happened to be Arab, and though he went to college, had a good job, and worked hard, after September 11 he had to leave the country and now my daughter, who is about the same age as your son," she said, pointing to the little guy beside her, "doesn't see her father much because he is exiled in Canada." The woman's eyes widened, clearly taking in new information. "So my candidate is lying to me?," she asked, considering the implications of this new understanding. "These are people just like me, trying to make it work?" "Yes," said Artemis. The woman thanked Artemis and promised to look further into it. As Artemis walked away, noticing the thumping of her heart, she realized that that had been the most exhilarating moment of the day. She had walked to the periphery of her world and managed to make contact on the other side. She felt expanded, bigger. She walked down the street, turning, and walking up the stairs of her candidate's campaign office. As she walked in and shared her experience with some of the other campaigners returning from their two hour shifts, she quickly noticed their looks and felt herself retreat into herself as one of them, a young, white man said, "You did it all wrong! You're not supposed to talk to the enemy!" Effective interactors know how to cross thresholds of difference. One can deepen the practice of effective interactions by understanding and identifying key interaction patterns of domination and liberation. A pattern is a combination of qualities, acts, and tendencies that form a consistent or characteristic arrangement. Anyone can use patterns of domination, regardless of race, class, gender, or other difference. These are like masks one is invited to wear, innocent seeming ways of thinking that support relationships of domination. What triggers them is an encounter with difference. They reflect an inability to make room for the other. They are used not only by the obedient citizen, but also the rebellious social change agent. There are seven interaction patterns of domination. The first, and fundamental, pattern is tolerance. In this interaction one allows small doses of difference-enough to stimulate, but not enough to require change. Tolerance demands moderation. This shows up in organizations that strive for diversity instead of equity. The concept of diversity flows from a supremacist perspective. It is framed as a value to the dominant. It adds nuance to a situation, but it does not change the relationships of power. The second pattern is objectification. Here one removes history from the interaction so as to avoid responsibility for what happened and will happen. Imagine one is a first world citizen vacationing in third world country, simply appreciating the beauty of the place and friendly locals. One basks in the privilege that allows one to consume in this way, and suffers no recognition of the cost the locals have paid and are paying. One feels no personal responsibility for the past and does not see how one contributes to the condition in the present. The third domination pattern is assimilation-one is incapable of seeing difference. The other is a version of oneself gone astray. This allows one to ignore difference by reducing it to sameness. If one cannot completely ignore the difference, one deems it exotic. While this may seem like a compliment, it defines the other as foreign and unknowable. This occurs when one is not able to be curious when faced with a different interpretation of reality. Instead of seeking to understand how or why this reality makes sense to the other, one seeks to make the other see the "truth" and correct behavior. In the fourth pattern, authority, rationality is hidden. Something is because one says it is so. One does not have to justify it or provide explanations. The simplest example is the parent who responds to a child's, "Why?" with, "Because I said so!" Objectivity is the fifth. Here one ignores power laden realities, believing one is taking the higher ground. This is reflected in the much valued claim of neutrality that characterizes the dominant psyche. It is noncommitted, detached, a d moderate, as when one says, "I will not hire someone based on the color of their skin. I will hire the best." It is this very levelheadedness that creates the inflexibility that supports the dominant order. One does not take into account the reality that racial histories have underdeveloped whole groups of people and given other groups unearned advantages. The sixth pattern, accumulation, refers to the collecting of experiences and things. Quantity is made to stand in for quality. More is better and he who has the most wins. An example is deferential treatment for the wealthy simply because they are wealthy and regardless of the quality of their being. Or, conversely, dismissive treatment of a subordinate, regardless of the quality of her being, simply because of her lower status. Finally, there is certainty-when one asserts one's reality as if there is no other. One knows for sure and speaks in declarative sentences. One sets the frame for the interaction, expecting the other to slide into one's narrative. It is devised to make one's reality the operative one. One must unlearn this fetish of assertion. Refraining from assertiveness is the discipline to make space for looking into another person's life, and for them to look equally into one's life. Learning to live with people who differ is one of the most urgent challenge facing societies today. These seven domination patterns-tolerance, objectification, assimilation, authority, objectivity, accumulation, and certainty-are considered acceptable and encouraged in postmodern Western societies, but they do not help us live well together. Patterns of domination make one rigid and keeps one from fuller forms of existence. In order to wear these masks, one must disconnect from authentic experiences, which are mutual. Patterns of Domination 1 Tolerance Small doses of difference are allowed 2 Objectification Removes history from the interaction 3 Assimilation Incapable of seeing difference 4 Authority Rationality is hidden 5 Objectivity Ignores power laden realities 6 Accumulation Quantity stands in for quality 7 Certainty Asserting one's reality as if there is no other As there are patterns of domination, there are also patterns of resistance. These are ways of being that disrupt relationships of power by making space for the other. They require a freedom from archetypes and the capacity to try on new ways of thinking. Just as one has the choice to rigidify, one also has the choice to endlessly recreate oneself. We develop in relationship. This is a cross racial, cross class, cross nation existence. It is interstitial being, a reconnecting across boundaries, in two senses. One, it is living between one's reality and another's. Two, it is living between one's present self and one's future self. Disrupting relationships of power requires one to redirect one's life energy away from patterns of domination and towards co-creating new, mutual realities. Learning to live between world views allows one to disrupt the dominant realities of monocultures and see the narratives to which one has become acculturated. There are three interaction patterns of resistance. They are three types of powers that together help one make space for new realities. Excerpted from The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics by Cyndi Suarez All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Section 1 Power + Identity | Refusing Powerless Identitiesp. 5
Power + Identity Introp. 7
1 Effective Interactions: Supremacist Power and Liberatory Powerp. 11
2 Interaction Patterns: Patterns of Domination and Patterns of Resistancep. 15
3 Transmission of Affect: Life-affirming and Life-draining Affectsp. 23
4 The Sources of Power Relations: Developmental Stages and Mind Formsp. 29
5 Powerless and Powerful Identities: Hegemony and Supreme Powerp. 35
Section 2 Power + Choice | Triggering Choicep. 45
Power + Choice Introp. 47
6 Decision and Choice: The Efficient Unconscious and the Effort of Intentionp. 51
7 The Social Aspects of Choice: Participation in Decision Makingp. 55
8 Supreme Choice: Mastery Over Inner Experiencep. 63
Section 3 Power + Thresholds | Creating the Selfp. 69
Power + Thresholds Introp. 71
9 Rites of Passage: Self Formation in Liminal Spacep. 73
10 Theater as Interaction and Identity Creation: High Status and Low Status Charactersp. 79
Section 4 Power + Games | Playing with Powerp. 89
Power + Games Introp. 91
11 The Purpose of Play: Play As Evolutionp. 93
12 The Structure of Games: Ordering Interactionsp. 103
13 The Party Came: Sign Readingp. 113
14 The Stand, Sit, Kneel Game: Deconstructionp. 117
15 The Tongue Twister Game: Reconstructionp. 121
16 The Meisner Game: Reconstructionp. 127
17 The Yes, But/Yes, And Game: Sign Reading, Deconstructionp. 131
18 The Circle Game: Reconstructionp. 135
19 The Lane Game: Reconstructionp. 139
20 The Body Language Game: Sign Readingp. 143
21 The Switching Game: Reconstructionp. 147
22 The Status Master Game: Sign Reading, Deconstruction, Reconstructionp. 155
23 The Scene Study Game: Deconstructionp. 161
24 The Character Study Game: Reconstructionp. 165
Referencesp. 169
Indexp. 177
About the Authorp. 183
A Note about the Publisherp. 184