Powerful people shrug off rebuffs, bond well

Last Updated: Sun, Jan 20, 2013 11:20 hrs

Washington, Jan 20 (IANS) People in positions of authority are quick to shrug off snubs or mild rejection and will seek out social bonding opportunities even if they have been rebuffed, according to a US study.

"Powerful people appear to be better at dealing with the slings and arrows of social life. They are more buffered from the negative feelings that rejection typically elicits," said Maya Kuehn, doctoral student in psychology at University of California - Berkeley, who led the study.

Kuehn and colleagues conducted five experiments that examined power dynamics in workplace and in intimate relationships, focusing on how power influences responses to subtle acts of rejection. Some 445 men and women aged between 18 and 82 years participated in the study.

In one experiment, participants were assigned either high- or low-level positions in a workplace, then told they had not been invited to an office happy-hour gathering, according to a California statement.

While low-level employees reported feeling stung by this rejection, the high-power ones were relatively unfazed and more likely to seek out other social bonding activities, such as a hiking club, to improve relations with their co-workers.

In another experiment, participants were told they would be working with someone in either a supervisory or a subordinate role. They corresponded with that person and received feedback that could be perceived as a snub.

Those who had been assigned supervisory roles acted with indifference to perceived snubs from their underlings while subordinates took offence to comparable barbs from their bosses.

"When rejected instead of accepted, subordinates reported lower self-esteem and greater negative emotion, but supervisors did not show an adverse reaction to rejection," Kuehn said.

A similar power dynamic played out in an experiment involving romantic partners. Couples were brought into a lab setting and videotaped discussing problem-solving tasks, such as what to do if an airplane they were on crashed in the wilderness.

Before these discussions, couples had rated each other in terms of who held the most power in their real-life relationships, and how responsive their partners had been to their needs that day.

The study found that the partners who perceived themselves as less powerful were less positive during the videotaped discussion when working on a solution with their mate.

By comparison, the more dominant partners acted more upbeat and worked harder at connecting and getting their mates on their side.

Other co-authors of the study are Berkeley psychologists Serena Chen and Amie Gordon. These findings were presented at the annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans.

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