This week’s article is going to be different from our usual content that’s geared towards emotional health and dating advice. However, the topics covered here will be applicable to dating and beyond, like managing personal and professional relationships and advanced concepts on soft skills.
In our workshops and programs, we often get into the details and nuances of social dynamics and how to navigate power dynamics. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article on dominance, whether it’s meeting women, making friends, or navigating office politics at work, one thing that’s rarely discussed is the power and group dynamics that exist in human behavior and social interaction.
You don’t need to become an academic expert in this topic, but it’s important to fundamentally understand that we live in a dominance hierarchy. As you read part one of this multi-part series, suspend your judgment, put aside your personal biases, and keep an open mind. Topics related to understanding social hierarchies always overlap with the touchy subjects of class inequality, racial inequality, and the toxic world of modern US politics.
As I always say to our students, I’m not the type of coach to paint sunshine and rainbows. Understanding power dynamics is fundamental to navigating the unspoken rules and norms that exist in every group or clique you interact with. Think about it this way: would you behave the same way in front of your best friends as you would in front of your family during the holidays?
Of course every family has its own set of unspoken norms. But usually you wouldn’t behave like your full, unfiltered, and raunchy self in front of your family. It’s much the same with how you behave in front of your coworkers and boss compared to your friends and family.
The first half of our Dating Mastery Program is dedicated to understanding power dynamics, group dynamics, and role playing scenarios both in the classroom and applying it in real-life scenarios. The truth is, whenever you go out to any social event or public place like a bar or club, girls nine times out of ten never go alone. They’re usually out with their friends, roommates, coworkers, or a mix of friends and family.
My point is, the odds of meeting a girl by herself, especially in a public space, isn’t very high. So one of the questions we often get from our students is, “How do I approach a girl while she’s with her friends?” or some variation of that question. Whether it’s meeting women, making friends, navigating office politics, or just managing the complexities of human relationships, knowing the unspoken rules of the game will not only give you a leg up on dating but also in life.
Whether you’re a natural extrovert or introvert, in order to function in society and stay mentally healthy, interacting with other human beings and building relationships is essential. Navigating power dynamics is something that’s unavoidable. Regardless of how you may feel about it, the reality of it is in any institution, group, or clique, there’s always an unspoken hierarchy. In any relationship, there’s always a power dynamic.
I admit this may sound cold and clinical, so don’t misinterpret any of the material we’re going to share with you in this multi-part series to be reckless and act like a Machiavellian sociopath. The goal of this series is to help you understand the unspoken power dynamics that exist in every group and how to use these concepts to be more socially assertive.
Not only will this make courtship easier for you, but it will help you navigate interpersonal relationships in a savvier manner and open more doors for you. This includes whether you’re trying to make new friends, expand your social circle, get a promotion or raise at work, or if you’re an entrepreneur like myself, create more resources for your business through relationships and opportunities.
Social Exchanges: Fundamentals of Social Success
As I’ve emphasized many times, without a solid foundation or grasp of the fundamentals, there’s no such thing as advanced. This principle applies to anything in life; the secrets are in the basics. So before we get to the application portion of social and power dynamics, we need to cover some basic theory.
Social Exchange Theory
As cold as it may sound, every one of our relationships has a certain transactional nature to it. Whether it’s with friends, family, or acquaintances, there’s a certain unspoken transaction that takes place. But don’t take this to mean that all of the relationships we have with everyone are transactional and exclusively utilitarian.
For example, with close friends, family, and intimate relationships, transactions may include mutual exchanges like positive emotions, camaraderie, emotional support, financial support in some cases, and most of all safety.
With acquaintances, based on the level of trust between the two parties, the exchange may be a little more utilitarian. As an example, think back to college. You may have taken a class that you weren’t deeply interested in, but it was a required prerequisite for you to graduate. No matter how hard you tried to pay attention, you would either fall asleep in lecture or in some cases end up skipping it to go to happy hour at the pub.
To pass the class, you would exchange favors with your peers in the class who were doing better, like getting their notes from the lecture you missed or answers to the homework questions. In return, you would do a similar favor for them. It’s one of those unspoken quid-pro-quos that exists for the duration of the semester.
With working professionals, the same concept applies. For example, say your boss puts you on a project that requires a lot of mental bandwidth and time to complete. Because of this workload, you don’t have enough time to perform your normal duties in the office. So you go to a close friend or acquaintance on the job that you frequently exchange favors with, and ask them to cover you on your normal duties.
In return, you either take on part of their workload after you finish your project to free them up down the line, or you buy their lunch for the next few weeks. My point is, any relationship, whether you’re very close or just a mutual acquaintance, has a certain transactional nature to it.
Understanding the transactional nature of human relationships will help you to:
- Assess an individual’s character.
- Recognize and choose collaborators who will add value to your life and whose life you can add value to.
- Recognize and cut out people who take away value, hamper your progress, or have toxic traits.
- Improve your leadership skills.
In a nutshell, Social Exchange Theory is a conceptual framework that assesses the transactional nature and exchanges that take place in human relationships.
As I’ve mentioned before in our article on how to get a girl interested in you, attraction is a perception of value. That doesn’t mean you need to start acting like an entitled jerk because you “perceive” your value to be higher than someone else’s. What I’m saying is, attraction is a perception of the value you offer. That value can be social, financial, or emotional, just to name a few. It’s the same with social exchanges, where value is transferred from one person to another.
Social Exchange Theory starts from the premise that people prefer relationships that add value to their lives, help advance their interests in some way, and generally make them better off in the long run and vice versa. But understand that relationships can transcend the transactional aspect, and so can great leadership. Ideally, when it comes to your personal relationships, this is something you should work towards.
Value is tied into this exchange too. To add on to the fundamental concept of attraction that we cover in our coaching, value includes both material and emotional benefits. Examples of emotional benefits include compliments, attention, gratitude, or a positive energy that uplifts people.
People want and appreciate value-positive things and inherently dislike and avoid things that take away value. High-value people are generally value-positive people who provide or could provide what others want. For this simple fact, high-value people are wanted and sought after.
Social Exchange Principles
Now that we’ve introduced Social Exchange Theory, there are several principles to keep in mind if you want to be socially savvier with your relationships, in dating and beyond.
To get what you want, you must provide others what they want.
At the risk of sounding utilitarian again, let’s use the analogy of balancing a bank account to emphasize this concept. Whether it’s your interpersonal relationships, friendships, or courting a potential love interest, always consider what kind of value you can provide first.
Asking someone for something without giving is the social equivalent of over-drafting. Whatever your request may be, if instead you give others what they want, you’re more likely to also get what you want. This is what’s called a “socially balanced request.”
To achieve social status, popularity, influence, and power, remember to give value or develop the ability to deliver value.
Think back to your old high school hierarchy. Remember the most popular kids who had social status, like the stereotypical jocks or mean girls? Regardless of their behavior, people from other cliques wanted to be associated with them, because by association your status would naturally increase.
This also exists in the workplace, a bar with a group of friends, or any place with a standard hierarchy. There’s an official chain of command with positions like associate analyst, analyst, managing director, regional director, all the way up to the C-suite, and even the unofficial hierarchy and subgroups that command influence behind the scenes.
For example, take an associate analyst who’s highly competent and well-liked, but doesn’t want the extra responsibility associated with higher positions. He or she is friends with people higher up the chain and always manages to command their respect.
People who provide value are desired by others. Most are willing to follow them and do as they ask, since they know that person can reciprocate or potentially pay them back down the line. Much like in high school, kids may tolerate bad behavior from someone higher in the social hierarchy because just by association, their social value will increase. This leads them to more opportunities in that specific hierarchy. But most people never consciously think about this; it all happens on a subconscious level.
To avoid isolation and potential rejection, guard your reputation, and always provide value.
Like the old cliche goes, “It takes 30 years to build a reputation, and only 30 seconds to destroy it.” In a lot of our programs and articles, we emphasize going after what you want in life and not giving a fuck. While it’s important to be uninhibited and make your actions congruent with your internal narrative and emotional state, some people take this common platitude to the extreme.
There’s a fine balance between not giving a total fuck, which could either land you in jail or put you or others in danger, and giving too much of a fuck, where it inhibits your ability to get anything done. In order to function in society, it’s important to seek the middle ground between these two extremes.
Going back to providing value, nobody wants to deal with, befriend, or date people who take value. Value-takers struggle to develop and or maintain relationships. That’s why having a positive reputation is so helpful. A good reputation is like a personal recommendation; think of it as an unspoken Google Review. It ties in with the old social psychology concept of “social proof.”
In a nutshell, social proof is when people copy the actions of others in an attempt to properly navigate and behave in a given situation. The term was coined by social psychologist, Dr. Robert Cialdini, and is also known as informal social influence. If you want to learn more about this concept and Dr. Cialdini’s work, check out the following links:
Going back to the bank account analogy from earlier, there’s a reason why people with sociopathic tendencies are constantly on the move. People with these tendencies end up over-drafting their social bank account and need to escape that negative balance. Again, it takes only 30 seconds to destroy your hard-earned reputation.
To befriend, date, do business with, or generally socially transact with high-value individuals, find something to give.
Everyone wants to associate with people who have status, but high-value individuals like associating with other high-value individuals. For example, think about when you go out to bars and clubs. Attractive women tend to hang out and associate with other attractive women who are usually in a group. Another example of this concept applies to high-powered politicians and billionaires. Think about who Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos associate with and hang out with.
The first step to dealing with high-value individuals is to avoid framing yourself as a value-taker. As the old saying goes, “Treat normal people like celebrities and celebrities like normal people.” There’s a reason why that old stereotype of the disinterested hot girl exists, or why certain celebrities have that unapproachable aura. Everyone who interacts with them wants something from them, whether it’s their time, attention, resources, an autograph, or something that ends up invading their personal space. Don’t present yourself as another value-taker. They already have enough of those people vying for their attention and time.
The next step is to show that you can provide some kind of value, whether it’s positive emotions, charm, humor, or comfort. It can even apply to financial value or something you possess that can solve a problem for them. It’s okay if you don’t have much to give or provide at first. You can always provide loyalty and gratitude. Think of it as an IOU; it doesn’t cost anything to be genuine, kind, present, and emotionally attuned.
To develop long and happy relationships, do your best to keep everything a win-win.
Managing power dynamics can be complicated. It takes a lot of effort and consistency in the beginning to develop trust in any relationship. The real world is complex and filled with many variables that are out of your control. Not all interactions and relationships will result in a win-win situation where both parties get what they want.
Win-win relationships are the gold standard of social exchanges. While value-neutral relationships can also last, they don’t thrive like win-win relationships. Value-taking and win-lose relationships will either end quickly or turn toxic and can only be maintained with coercion and manipulation. This is why we always emphasize dropping the manipulation tactics and avoiding people who engage in these types of behavior.
If you want to get a deeper understanding and practical strategies to manage conflict, personal relationships, and develop a win-win mindset, I highly recommend the book Win-Win Influence by Roger Ellerton.
Here’s a quick recap of the key concepts and ideas we covered in this article around Social Exchange Theory:
- To get what you want, you must provide others what they want.
- To achieve social status, popularity, influence, and power, remember to give value or develop the ability to deliver value.
- To avoid isolation and potential rejection, guard your reputation, and always provide value.
- To befriend, date, do business with, or generally socially transact with high-value individuals, find something to give.
- To develop long and happy relationships, do your best to keep everything a win-win.
In part two of this series, we’ll cover practical strategies, techniques, and mindsets to build upon your understanding of navigating power dynamics. For now, study these principles and start putting them into practice. Remember to always focus on getting the fundamentals right before moving to the next steps.
’Til next time,