Who has the power in the room?

How to gain an advantage in any group situation.

As consultants, we’re often asked to present sometimes controversial recommendations. In such cases, it’s critical to know who has the real power in the room. Who are the actual – not just titled – leaders who can persuade the others to adopt or reject your proposals?

There is a simple technique we recently learned from our longtime adviser Jim Moss that can help you figure out very quickly who holds the power in any group situation. It isn’t always the person at the head of the table, or the person who has the most to say. Often, the answer is in the eyes.

Soon after you begin, ask a very serious question such as "Looking back, who is responsible for this problem?"

Then watch carefully to see who everyone looks at before they respond.

The person (or persons) who receive the most eye contact is usually the most influential player in the room. They are likely the ones with the power. They may not say a word, but their reactions consciously or unconsciously affect the group’s responses.

Once you discover who has the power, you can tailor your presentation to them and improve your chances of getting the group to seriously consider your ideas.

So the next time you need to know who has the power – follow the eyes.

By Lisa Howell
Sr. Strategist

Re-posted from our archive. First posted in 2007.