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What is Empowerment?

The gold standard for social interactions and qualitative results

Today’s world is about results. What will it do, where is it going, when can it be expected, how much is it going to cost and how much will it bring back. Outcomes in the physical world drive us and shape our decisions yet, to a great irony, the results which are often the most meaningful to us are also the ones that are not readily measurable or quantifiable.

How do you weigh happiness? What is the size of confidence? Exactly how peaceful can I get through that guided meditation CD?

These types of things are not measurable because they are states of being — experiences that just exist. If you are happy and I am happy — one of us is not happier than another. Sure, we distinguish different flavors of these states of being by trying to capture them in language — elated, blissful, content — but states of being work more like an on-off switch with a dimmer.

The color of the light may be a little different, dimmer or brighter but it either has power or it doesn’t.

There’s no such thing as being “sort of” pregnant or “kind of” in love. Either the light is on or it’s not — and while there are a massive variety of ways to articulate a particular state of being (as in the now famous and interesting, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig), what’s behind those slight emotional variations is a simpler system of energy principles, among them the notion of power.

In any line of work where you are involved with people it is crucial to develop your social intelligence and relationship management skills so that you can navigate the wide range of responses and communication that are possible in human beings.

We can’t get lost in the details, especially as leaders.

In the work that I do with people in ballroom dancing or personal coaching, helping people see the principles at play behind those details lead me to establish general values (or, anchors, as I consider them) that every situation can be tested against. They act as objective baselines in an otherwise subjective experiential realm and they help to create meaningful results.

Enter the Principle of Empowerment.

Empowerment is a word that (to me) first calls to mind issues of social or gender justice — but its scope is much broader and more significant.

I believe that Empowerment is the gold standard for social interactions and measuring qualitative results.

Is the relationship, job or decision you are creating giving you power or taking it away? Did you rob someone of power in any of your interactions today or were you a force that was generating power to others? When you can look beyond the details of what happened and see the happenings of your relationships from a frame of empowerment, it will give you a powerful access into creating a life you love with the people you love in it consistently and sustainably.

So, what exactly is empowerment? We understand its value — as a useful tool for evaluating your social interactions and decisions in the world to create more of the things we want of like confidence, happiness and so on.

We also understand how it behaves — like an on/off switch with a dimmer that generates different states of being—the brightness of those states can be different but in the end it’s just a matter of having light or not. To continue the light metaphor, empowerment would be like the actual light bulb, whereas the particular emotion or experience we feel would be the type of lamp or cover. Empowerment is what’s working in the background.

Empowerment strips away the significance and meaning of what that experience is or isn’t (compared to another) and looks at it simply — is it creating power or not?

But what does it mean to have power and why is it useful? And how do you know if something is empowering or dis-empowering? How do you detach from a situation and recognize which side of the switch it falls on and, most importantly, how do you bring the power back if it’s lost?

These are important questions but fortunately they have simple answers.