Definition, Types, and Examples of Coercive Power

You have first-hand knowledge of coercive power if you have ever had an employer, teacher, or coach use the threat of punishment to coerce you into doing something you may or may not have wanted to do.


Coercive Power: What Is It?

When a person in a position of authority uses the threat of punishment to coerce subordinates into obeying their demands, this is known as coercive power. The motivation to comply is the fear of punishment. Expert power, legitimate power, reward power, and informational power are just a few examples of the various forms of coercive power.


6 Types of Power

The psychologists John French and Bertram Raven who investigated and studied coercive power at the University of Michigan are credited with coining the term. The two proposed a six-type theory of power for individuals, institutions, and governments. The foundations of social power, in the opinion of French and Raven, are:

1. Coercive power: This kind of power uses force or punishment to make you do something you don't want to. When your boss threatens to fire you for failing to finish a project on time, for example, coercion is being used as a type of authoritarian power to prevent insubordination.

2. Expert power: When a person possesses specialized knowledge, experience, or skills, they have expert power. When you follow the medical advice a doctor gives you, they have expert power over you.

3. Informational power: This type of power is when a person or entity has access to information that they can use to influence the beliefs or knowledge of others. Social media firms wield a lot of informational clout.

4. Legitimate power: Legitimate power results from a leadership position that is chosen or elected. It is right for the Queen of England to be in a position of authority.

5. Referent power: Referent power results from individual group members respecting the organizational norms and shared values of their community. Referent power is demonstrated, for instance, when someone follows the moral guidance of a charismatic religious leader.

6. Reward power: By promising or withholding a reward, reward power encourages a desired behaviour. When a parent promises their child ice cream if they finish their homework, that is an illustration of the power of rewards.


Three instances of coercive power

Both in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships, coercive power moves are used. Here are a few instances:

1. At work, a manager threatens to demote a team member if they don't put in long hours without getting paid overtime.

2. In politics, a government will threaten to invade a weaker country if it does not accept its sovereignty.

3. At school, a bully threatens physical violence unless a student completes their homework.


4 Problems with Coercive Power

Coercive power may be the most destructive of all forms of power, despite the fact that it can combat noncompliance in the short term. Threats have a number of drawbacks, including:

1. Might cause retaliation: The members of a team are directly impacted by the type of leadership in place on both a personal and professional level. Coercive power usage over time may result in resentment and retaliation, including employee walkouts or strikes.

2. Prevents development and innovation: Working under constant threat can make you fearful of punishment, which diminishes your personal power and prevents you from experiencing the joy of creativity or innovation. The organization may stagnate as a result of these working conditions.

3. Needs constant monitoring: Using threats to enforce compliance only works if you are present to monitor because there is no incentive to continue if no one is looking.

4. Demands carrying out threats: Threats must be followed through on in order for coercive power to be effective, which can be harmful. You face two challenges if a team member leaves before completing a project: an unfinished project and finding a replacement employee.


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