Participants in my classes will frequently ask how to work with someone who has more power than they do. This question often refers to someone who has more authority. Authority is only one form of power and when we view it as absolute it will blind us to other sources of power that we have.
One tendency is to try to overcome or get around the authority. Instead, consider recognizing the authority of the other person, and focusing on a common interest.
Here is a simple formula illustrated with an example: “I recognize that reducing the number of people working on this initiative is your responsibility and that we must increase our efficiency. I find that we are struggling to achieve the efficiency you want. I think there may be another way to create the efficiency gains you seek and I would like 10 minutes of your time in order to explain it to you.”
In this manner you remove or reduce threats to authority by stating or implying that you are subject to that authority. Secondly, you frame your wish to advocate for your needs or perspective through highlighting a genuine common interest, which in this case is efficiency. Thirdly, you focus first on establishing an agreement to a conversation before beginning the conversation.
If your offer to provide information is accepted, which it frequently will be in my experience, you will have eliminated or greatly reduced the detrimental influence of the hierarchical power and authority. You will have leveled the playing field for a conversation over the identified issue. The person with greater authority will be open to being influenced by you within the bounds of the identified common interest. Now, of course, it is up to you to present your perspective in a persuasive manner.
Never assume that you have no power when you are lower in a hierarchy than someone you seek to influence. As long as the other person will communicate with you over an issue you have enough power to begin to influence him or her.
When confronted with authority it can be intimidating and overwhelming. A normal response is to retreat from it or react against it psychologically. Counter intuitively, I am suggesting that you walk right up to it, and explicitly recognize it. If you are lower in the hierarchy you are subject to this form of power anyway. This is a fact.
Hierarchy is a power structure but your personal power can be used to neutralize it for the duration of a conversation. Within that conversation you have opportunity to influence policy and practices in a manner that may not usually be available to you. Furthermore, if the person with more hierarchical power finds your views have merit, you may open the door to a valuable ongoing association.