Interview with Cyndi Suarez, Author of "The Power Manual"

by: EJ on 07/03/2018

Cyndi Suarez, author of The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics has been working with non-profits and activists for 20 years.  She is a journalist and a consultant with a MS in Nonprofit Management.  In her new book, she explores the major concepts of power with a focus on how to shift power dynamics to create change both personally and professionally.  Understanding dominant power relations and mastering power dynamics is perhaps the most essential skill for change agents across all sectors.  For anyone who has ever been stymied in reaching their goals and wondered how to can real change happen, this is the book for you.

In today's interview, she talks about making mindful choices, man-spread and why she uses games to help understand power dynamics.

Can you give an example of two everyday choices, one that would be characterized by intuition and one that would be characterized by self-control?

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Cyndi Suarez (photo credit: Gwendolyn Rodriguez)

An everyday example of intuition is the way many people respond to people considered different, say because of race. For example, as a woman of color who looks biracial (I’m Puerto Rican), I may not assume that a white man will interact with me in a respectful way because of the many negative stereotypes about both white men and women of color that permeate our society and the accumulations of unsuccessful past personal experiences. However, the experience of having many white male friends and white ex-boyfriends mitigates my experiences. So, in an interaction with a white man I just meet I may look at him and say hello, but also be cautious, especially in today’s racial climate in the US. This would be a conditioned response.

On the flipside, recently, for example, I attended a celebration at my meditation center, which is predominantly white. I noticed two other women of color. They looked like mother and daughter. I’d not met them before. After the ceremony, when we were milling outside talking, I made a point of walking by and saying hello, and was surprised when their response was somewhat cold. I assumed they would be friendly because everyone is in the meditation center, but also because they were black and in my past experiences black people are usually friendly to other people of color.

However, I could also exercise self-control in both scenarios. With the white man I just meet, though my intuitions are part of me, I’m also aware of them and how they function because I pay close attention to my motivations and choices. So I push myself to be just as friendly to white men, for example, as I would to a person of color. Likewise, I am also tentative in my hello to another person of color because I know just because we appear similar doesn’t mean that person will be friendly. Who knows what else is going on with another in any interaction? Nevertheless, we make somewhat unconscious decisions like this all the time, based on what we’ve come to know. Self-control is simply moving unconscious choices into conscious decision making by reflecting on past decisions and motivations and tracking oneself against more conscious intentions.

According to choice theory, “one chooses everything one experiences, including the misery one feels.” Why would anyone choose to feel miserable?

This concept comes from William Glasser, an American psychologist who seeks to stress the point that we have much more choice in our lives than we realize. He argues that we choose our actions and our thoughts, and as a result, our feelings and even physiology. It may be more difficult for us to make some choices the others, but nevertheless, there is always choice. Some of our choices and thought patterns brings us misery. Who else can change that but us?

In explaining high and low status individuals, you speak about dominant body language. Do you have any recommendations for addressing “man spread”?

I encounter this every once in a while when I take the train downtown to work. I always simply ask the man to close his legs and give me my space. I say it matter-of-factly and without attitude. Usually they are surprised, but close their legs. Recently, a young, white man became very upset when I made this request and started a diatribe against me as he got up and stormed away to another seat. In situations like this I remain calm and unperturbed. I don’t upload his anger/anxiety. I keep it clean. There’s nothing for his anger to latch onto and that defuses it. It’s on him that such a simple request would rock his world.

Patterns of resistance(1)

Why did you decide to use games to help understand power dynamics?

As I explain in the “The Purpose of Play,” games are inherently about power, the rules are explicit, players have to engage each other, any losses are minimal, and playing together bonds players even if it’s a competition. It is perfect for engaging others around power.

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