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The Five Bases of Power

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Power is defined as a capacity that one person (or group) has to influence the behavior of another person (or group) so that the second person acts according to how the first person wants. There are two general sources of power, formal and personal; those sources of power can be broken down into different bases of power. Formal power can be coercive power, reward power, or legitimate power; personal power can be expert power or referent power (Robbins & Judge, 2009). Each form of power will be discussed on an individual basis to determine how the power affects communications within an organization.

Formal power is based on an individual’s position within an organization; the individual gains power through the ability to coerce or reward, or from formal authority. “Coercive power is dependent on fear, suppression of free will, or the use of punishment for existence” (“Coercive power,” 2012). Others in an organization also use coercive power by withholding important information; knowing this important information has others dependent on them.

As an employee, I feared losing my job when I was not moving as fast as my manager wanted me to during lunch rush. My manager had told me previously that I was not fast enough at assembling sandwiches as others; I was told frequently that this was a cause to be fired if I did not improve my speed. I did not let that manager have coercive power over me for long; I had another employee help me learn ways to speed up my sandwich making. I eventually was not in fear for losing my job because of my speed.

“Reward power is a person’s ability to control distribution of rewards to gain compliance from others;” just the opposite of coercive power (“Reward power,” 2012). People within an organization tend to comply with others wishes because complying produces positive benefits. The benefits or rewards could be...

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