The Psychology of Middle Power: Vertical Code-Switching, Role Conflict, and Behavioral Inhibition
Author(s): Eric M. Anicich, Jacob B. Hirsh
Abstract: Decades of research have demonstrated that having or lacking power can influence how people think and behave in organizations. By contrasting the experiences associated with high- and low-power states, however, this research has neglected the psychological and behavioral correlates of middle power, which is the subjective sense that one's power is neither consistently higher nor lower than the power of one's interaction partners. In this article we propose that middle-power positions and mindsets lead to frequent vertical code-switching--the act of alternating between behavioral patterns that are directed toward higher-power and lower-power interaction partners. We draw from identity and role transition theories to develop propositions specifying when frequent vertical code-switching will, in turn, result in heightened role conflict. We further situate our theoretical analysis by updating and extending the approach/inhibition theory of power on the basis of insights from revised reinforcement sensitivity theory to introduce an integrative framework called the approach/inhibition/avoidance theory of power. Overall, we highlight the promise of conceptualizing power in terms of the stability of one's vertical orientation, offering novel predictions about the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects of power.
Publication Title: Academy of Management Review, Vol. 42(4)
Pub Year: 2017
Pages: 659 – 682
Keywords: power, interpersonal relations, role conflict

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