Power plays are the result of wanting to be in control or a desire to prove superiority over someone else. The thing to realize is that everyone is seeking control.

Power plays erupt either in outright client versus advisor clashes or, more typically, subtle but strong undertows, which can drown a meeting process. 

How can you make sure that you are not engaged in a client/advisor power play? And, if you already are involved, how do you get yourself out of that situation? Let’s find out. 

Power plays come in different forms. Here are my top four power plays that clients and advisors typically use with one another to try and gain an advantage. 

1. Using old-school manipulative selling methods always puts your clients on the defense and ignites their power play fire. As soon as they feel you trying to push, pull or sell them something, their immediate reaction is to defend themselves. 

Defending is a way of solidifying their position with you — a type of power play. So, they hide from you. And, when clients hide, they feel more in control. 

So, to reduce or eliminate this power play, don’t use old-school manipulative selling using old-school techniques such as closing, hot buttons, probing, trial closes, etc. 

2. Clients often have ideas and opinions counter to yours. If you try to correct them, they will back up to protect themselves, especially their egos. Many power plays are just a clash of egos — you trying to prove you know more than your client or vice versa. This is a never-ending cycle that can only get worse as the meetings go on. 

If I’m going to challenge a client in any way, I’m going to ask permission to do so: “Mr. Client, is it OK if I challenge you a bit? Is it OK if I upset you a little? Suppose you discovered that the information you have is incorrect; would you shoot the messenger?” 

3. The ultimate power play is a client “think about it.” When clients tell you they want to think about something, they gain immediate control. Now, they have all your information and the only recourse they give you is to try and chase them down while they do their thinking. 

To eliminate this power play, you must address it from the very beginning of your meeting process by reviewing how you work and how decisions are going to be made. 

I get agreement from the client that I am going to give them the pros and cons of everything we talk about and that their job is to give me the yeses and nos for what they like and dislike.

Ultimately, we will have a new plan in place and I’ll give them the same review of the pros and cons of the plan. At that point, their job is to let me know if we should implement it or not. Either way, I’m good! 

4. Making a plan for a client that you think is best for them is much like buying clothes for someone — it’s hit or miss and in all probability, you will choose something that the person does not like. However, if you shop with that person, making it a collaborative effort, you will never back yourself into that corner where they don’t like what you’ve done for them. 

I don’t do plans for clients; instead, I collaborate with them on everything (as in number 4 above, by always discussing the pros and cons). Collaboration eliminates big mistakes and defensiveness. 

Everyone wants to be in control — it’s human nature. The secret to successful selling is to make your clients feel like they are in control.

In reality, you are! Keep your eyes and ears peeled for power plays and you will make your meetings more friendly, trusting and successful.