Difficult Conversations Teamwork

Managing Power Dynamics in the Workplace

In the dynamic landscape of modern workplaces, leaders frequently face the challenge of managing a range of personalities and behaviours. Among these, power and control behaviours can be particularly disruptive, often manifesting as non-cooperation, sabotage, or undermining of team efforts. Addressing these behaviours is crucial not only for maintaining team harmony but also for the personal development of the individuals involved. This article looks at how leaders can engage in constructive conversations with team members with these power dynamics, aiming to transform potential conflicts into opportunities for growth and alignment.

Picture this

Imagine you are leading a team where one of the members is showing signs of power-driven behaviours: withholding information, creating unnecessary crises only they can resolve, or subtly undermining both colleagues and leadership. These actions not only jeopardize your team’s dynamics but can also stall projects and foster an environment of mistrust and insecurity. You know that this team member is unhappy at work. They have been applying for promotions and when unsuccessful, their poor behaviour escalates for a time. This team member can be very defensive about getting feedback, and this has led to you avoiding dealing with the issues and hoping that things will settle down. However, their behaviour needs to be addressed, and sooner rather than later. The challenge for you, and any leader, is to address these issues in a manner that opens up dialogue without putting the team member on the defensive—a delicate balance between confrontation and collaboration.

What can you do?

Addressing power and control behaviours with this person requires tactful management to prevent defensiveness and foster open dialogue. Adopting an approach that utilises ‘I’ve observed’ statements and frames the conversation within the context of career development is highly effective. This method is non-confrontational and is designed to cultivate a constructive environment for discussion. Below are some scripted examples that could prove beneficial in facilitating these conversations.

Opening the Conversation

  • Setting a Positive Intent: “I wanted to have a chat about your career and how we can align your aspirations with the team’s goals. It’s important to me that we create an environment where everyone feels supported and empowered.”
  • Inviting Participation: “I value your contributions and would like to understand your perspective on how things are going. Can you share your thoughts on your current role and any aspirations you have?”

Providing Observations

  • Specific Behaviours: “I’ve observed a few instances where there seems to be a disconnect between what the team expects and what happens. For example, there have been times when not all the information was shared, which led to misunderstandings. Can you walk me through your thought process during those times?”
  • Impact on the Team: “In some cases, it appears that these actions have created challenges for the team, such as [describe a specific instance]. It’s important for us to understand the impact of our actions on our colleagues. What are your thoughts on this?”

Encouraging Reflection

  • Self-Reflection: “How do you see your role in the team’s dynamics? Are there areas where you think we could improve our communication or collaboration?”
  • Aspirations and Alignment: “Given your aspirations [mention any specific aspirations they have shared], let’s talk about how aligning your actions with the team’s needs can be a win-win. How do you think you can contribute to this?”

Discussing Career Development

  • Growth Opportunities: “I believe there are several opportunities for you to lead and excel in ways that are aligned with your strengths and the team’s goals. For example, [suggest a project or responsibility]. What are your thoughts on taking on something like this?”
  • Feedback and Improvement: “I’m here to support your growth and development. What kind of support do you need from me or the team to help you achieve your goals?”

Closing the Conversation

  • Collaborative Plan: “Let’s work together on a plan that supports your career development while also meeting the team’s needs. What are some steps we can both take to move forward?”
  • Open Door Policy: “I appreciate your openness today. Please remember, my door is always open for discussions like this, whether it’s about challenges you’re facing or new ideas you want to explore.”


Navigating conversations around power and control behaviours is not about assigning blame or delivering ultimatums. Instead, it’s about fostering an atmosphere of openness and mutual respect. By focusing on observations rather than accusations and linking discussions to career development opportunities, leaders can encourage team members to reflect on their actions and consider the broader impact of their behaviour on the team. Such conversations are not only crucial for resolving current conflicts but also serve as a cornerstone for building resilient team dynamics and nurturing leadership qualities in all team members. Remember, the goal is to empower individuals to align their personal ambitions with the team’s objectives, creating a more cohesive and supportive work environment.

Do you need assistance with managing power dynamics in your team? Book a complimentary 30-minute strategy session with Ros here.

Read next: Optimising Psychological Safety at Work

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