Power dynamics are inevitable in relationships, they play a particularly important role at work, and are especially crucial when we bring into consideration the obvious power dynamics between a Co-op student and their employer. The same goes for communicating across difference and being aware of our unconscious biases and assumptions as we increasingly work with diverse individuals.
In her book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown explains that shame is a universal emotion that we all try to avoid, and in the workplace shame manifests as favoritism, gossiping, harassment, perfectionism, and cover-ups, to name a few. The opposite of shame, Brown says, is empathy – connecting to the emotions that underpin someone’s experience. What stands out here, is that the examples that Brown notes for ways in which shame manifests in the workplace, have an underlying theme of power in play.
Power dynamics are inevitable in relationships both inside and outside of the office. But they play a particularly important role at work, and are especially crucial when we bring into consideration the obvious power dynamics between a Co-op student and their employer. Turcotte et al. (2016), studied students on work terms and described them as vulnerable and reluctant to complain about problems because they fear the loss or failure of their placement, do not want to jeopardize their chances of graduating, or fear alienating an employer who may provide future references or job opportunities. This provides us with a framework to understand how some groups in the workplace can exert power over other groups in ways which can exclude or exploit them from certain activities or positions. Additionally, power dynamics impact how you communicate, can streamline or sidetrack collaboration, can silence certain voices, and consequently lead to alienation and impacts on one’s mental health. To learn more about types of power and leadership, click here.
These resources are curated by the SFU WIL Co-op team as a way to educate ourselves on developing an understanding of the many influences on cross cultural or intercultural communication. The four spectrums in the infographic titled “4 influences on intercultural interactions” represent culturally influenced orientations that can play a big role in intercultural communication and interactions. Keep in mind: these are not binary. In other words, a particular culture is not either one or the other (high power distance or low power distance, for example). Instead, each spectrum represents a wide range along which individuals and cultures may fall. Both individual and cultural orientations to these spectrums can also shift and move over time. It is useful to reflect on our own orientations to these spectrums, because it can provide insights into potential misunderstandings or conflicts that could arise with people who orient differently to the spectrums than we do. That recognition is the first step towards developing strategies for engaging respectfully across these differences.