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Shifting Power Dynamics to Win

Once you have chosen a purpose that is clear in your mind, and you are ready to go for it, no matter what kind of opposition you face, your brain starts to open up to see how even opposition can contribute to your purpose.

In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin (the chess prodigy on whose life the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher was based) talks about learning how to be a “push hands master.” Push hands is the Tai Chi fighting technique, and it is based on using other people’s weight in order to knock them off balance. Waitzkin talks about learning to stand in a grounded position as though rooted, and he describes that this is the only way to maintain balance and use a competitor’s force against him.

The same is true with purpose. When you have a purpose that resonates with your soul, it connects you to this life and this body, rather than keeping you in a place of struggle with yourself. The next question is, how can your harasser’s force contribute to that purpose and that rooting?

This doesn’t mean that you learn to love the harassment or appreciate it, although that is possible if you want it. This doesn’t even necessarily mean that you learn to just let go of wanting the harassment to change when it won’t. It means that you learn to actively use the force of the harassment in your favor.

So, for example, I worked with a woman whose supervisor thought she had called him out in public for being sexist, when she had no intention of doing that. He was so upset that he yelled at her, while sitting at a table full of colleagues, telling her that she was a liar and that he would not support her receiving a large commission she was due at the end of the year from the company. A couple of days later, having calmed down, he told her he wanted to apologize because he thought she might have taken his “joke” about her commission seriously.

Now, she could have struggled with his version of reality and tried to argue him into understanding that calling a threat a “joke” makes it worse, not better (and is also an insult to comedy). Instead, she accepted his apology and used it as part of her larger effort to disrupt the sexist nature of the company. She reported the incident, including his calling the threat a “joke.” She accepted that he had his version of reality, rather than arguing with it, and used it as an example of the company trivializing threats and retaliation. She not only protected her own commission by doing that, but she was able to ask for more institutional forms of change regarding the pay for all women in the company.

I sometimes see this with very skilled, confident social media presences, where they will get a troll, and then use the troll to their own advantage. This is different than just ignoring the troll and understanding that you do not need to become smaller because of him. That in itself is a huge step that is worthy of congratulations. But, it is so much more fun to take the troll energy and use it in your favor.

Often, harassment involves “gaslighting” – or the harasser reinventing the history of a harassing incident. This is only a problem if we want the harasser to accept our version of reality and somehow think that matters. Usually, we get involved in this kind of mind-reading because we think that if we can understand what our harasser is thinking, it will keep us safe, but instead it takes us out of our integrity and purpose and into other people’s minds. If you are focused on your purpose and how someone’s problem behavior can contribute to it, you can find a way to make that happen, no matter what their version of reality is. Doing this lets you find work that is fulfilling and advance in it, no matter what anyone else is doing.


This is a selection from Career Defense 101: How to Stop Sexual Harassment Without Quitting Your Job. For a free copy of the book, visit Or you can purchase online via Amazon or Barnes & Noble (paperback $16.95, hardcover $24.95).

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