Who Holds the Power & How to Level the Playing Field

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As you strive to grow your practice and career, you may notice that there are occasions when you’re in a weaker position than that of the customer/prospect whom you are trying to convince to use your services.  This is especially true if you are relatively new to the field.  Why is this the case?  There are many factors and perhaps the most important of these is the concept of greatest need.

Essentially, the person with the greatest need is the one who relinquishes their power to another.  As a result, if you have not demonstrated your value to the customer, then you have unknowingly placed that person in the ultimate position of power.  Whether you have done this consciously or not makes no difference.  What matters is that the customer has perceived you as being the one in need, not them.  When this happens, your chances of earning their business greatly diminish.

How do you change this?  The key in the beginning is positioning!  You must take steps to position yourself in the community where you offer tremendous value and are highly visible within your target market.

The world of professional sales offers us an important lesson with regards to the relationship between customer need and power.  The biggest differentiating factor between top performing sales professionals and those who struggle has to do with the awareness of power dynamics and the ability to create need through value based services or products.  Top performers recognize the relationship between need and power in business situations, and they have the ability to obtain and use this power throughout the negotiation process.  The same holds true for the mental health industry.  Those who create the greatest need and keep a certain level of authority and credibility are the ones who will be the most successful.

Let’s use an example from the world of mental health to explore this process further.  Suppose you are an experienced clinician looking to grow your business by choosing to offer trainings for the community.  You develop a variety of workshops on troubled adolescents and parenting skills.  You contact various organizations asking to advertise your service offerings, and as a result, you are given an opportunity to speak at a PTA meeting of 50-60 families.  On the day of the meeting you arrive and are given 15 minutes at the beginning of the meeting to talk about who you are and what services you offer.  You develop some nice brochures and leave them for people who might be interested.

Contrast this with a slightly different scenario where the local PTA identifies an increasing problem concerning adolescent violence and other risky behaviors.  A PTA attendee mentions that there is a clinician in the area who has done research on the topic of risky behaviors for adolescents.  That clinician is you.  They contact you and ask you to speak on the subject matter.  You are positioned as the featured event on the agenda for the evening.  You give a brief training on the topic and open the floor for questions, which leads to a lengthy question and answer period.  Following this discussion you inform the audience of your intent to start a new educational group for parents on how to address problematic behaviors in adolescents.

These two scenarios are vastly different when we look at the dynamics of power, persuasion, and need.  In the initial scenario you are clearly in a weaker position than the audience.  The simple fact that you approached them about attending one of their meetings immediately placed you in a more subservient and weaker position.  In addition, you had no differentiating factors, meaning there was no credibility or awareness building generated about your services and expertise.  You were simply viewed as one of many clinicians in the community who has approached them during the year.  As a result, you had very little influence and no control over the process.  The audience would hold the power throughout the interaction, and they would be the one’s to determine the outcome of the meeting.

In the latter example you were immediately put into a position of strength and credibility because the group contacted you about a specific need and believed you had the ability to meet that need.  As a result, the relational dynamics were significantly different.  You would step to the podium in front of an audience that did not need to be convinced or sold.  You would be seen as someone with answers, someone who could solve their problems.  They were, in essence, willing buyers in this scenario, and therefore, you would have much more control over the situation and would be able to manage the meeting in order to achieve a particular outcome.  Research shows that this position inevitably leads to higher sales success rates.

There are numerous business examples that can demonstrate the presence and importance of authority and control in determining business success.  The goal for all of you in the profession is to identify ways to level the playing field or, better yet, to transcend it so you operate from a position of strength.



  1. Kristie Davis  June 23, 2009

    Too often our clients and customers already feel “weaker and subservient”, to use your language. To “level the playing field”, we need to help them be the experts in their own lives, families, homes. Further, the relationship with consumers is a bit more delicate than you describe and power plays are not warranted. We must help empower our clients and our consumers who are working to help our clients and community.

  2. David Diana  June 23, 2009

    Great points! Certainly empowering individuals we see is vital and their are all sorts of complex relational dynamics involved. I’m glad you pointed that out because I missed stressing that piece.

    People are also going to be open to clinicians they feel comfortable with and not necessarily someone on a power trip. But nevertheless, there are power differentials set up. I’m not saying to manipulate situations. I’m saying if you build a reputation as a caring, genuine and highly knowledgeable practitioner (no matter what you do in the profession) then you place yourself in a position of authority and respect that will open up more opportunities for you.

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