Writing Power Primer Increases Efficacy in High-Stakes Performance

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Columbia’s Adam Galinsky opines that “power is the central regulator of human interaction…because it creates patterns of deference, reduces conflict, creates division of labor — all things that make our species successful.”

Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino

He evaluated a power-enhancing technique used by Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino when she interviewed for academic positions at top-tier universities after an initial unsuccessful round of interviews.

Gino wrote a “power prime” by recalling and writing about a time she felt powerful.
She reviewed this prime before she presented a talk and interviewed for academic roles.
Using this approach, Gino received four job offers from four top universities, in contrast to her previously unsuccessful interview attempts.

David Dubois

David Dubois

Galinsky collaborated with David Dubois of INSEAD, Tilburg University’s Joris Lammers, and Derek Rucker of Northwestern University to investigate whether changes in feelings of power are associated with different outcomes in professional interviews.

Joris Lammers

Joris Lammers

They asked applicants for jobs and for business school admission to recall and write about a time they felt powerful or powerless.
Independent judges, who were unaware of the power manipulation, rated more highly the written and face-to-face interview performance of applicants who recalled power experiences than those who remembered powerless situations or applicants who considered neither powerful or powerless experiences.

Derek Rucker

Derek Rucker

Judges stated that they preferred the power-primed applicants because they seemed more persuasive and confident than other applicants.

As a result, these applicants were offered job roles and business school admission more frequently than those who wrote about powerless experiences or those who considered neither powerful nor powerless situations:  68 percent of the power-primed candidates were offered roles, in contrast to the usual  acceptance rate of 47 percent.

The undermining impact of recalled powerlessness was also significant:  Only 26 percent of those who wrote about a time in which they lacked power were selected for roles and admission, considerably less than the expected average of 47 percent.

Sian Beilock

Sian Beilock

An earlier post mentioned Sian Beilock’s investigation of writing as a coping tool in stressful academic situations.
Her collaborators at University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, and Pace Universities showed that students could manage test anxiety by writing about their concerns to contain and “off-load” them and to maintain a calm mindset.

These findings suggest that merely recalling an experience of personal power can favorably influence impressions of persuasiveness and perhaps competence and likeability in professional interviews.
This effect can be enhanced by writing about power experiences to increase confidence and positive outlook when working toward desired goals.

-*How do you prepare for challenging professional interviews?
-*How effective have your found “power primes” in high-stakes performance situations?


Twitter:    @kathrynwelds
Blog: – Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary
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©Kathryn Welds


4 thoughts on “Writing Power Primer Increases Efficacy in High-Stakes Performance

  1. Megan Murphy

    Interesting, and true! how quickly we can change our mindset from ‘I hope they like me’ to ‘Let’s see if I like them’– I like the idea of recalling when you felt powerful. Good one!

    1. kathrynwelds Post author

      Thanks for point to the power of changing perspectives and “reframing” a situation, Megan.
      In your example, the emotion associated with the alternate statements can differ: the first can provoke anxiety whereas the second can lead to curiosity and engagement.
      And beyond simply thinking about these alternate perspectives, actually writing about previously successful mastery of challenging situations can increase confidence to perform effectively in current “stretch” situations.

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