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Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness
Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness

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2 How might power imbalances hinder communication?

Acquiescence occurs when a person indicates that they agree with something even though they do not. Think about the ice skating example you have just seen or the pit-crew member in the motor racing driver changeover video in Session 6. In both cases, if those being instructed do not want to be seen as difficult they remain largely silent.

An image of a set of scales.
Figure 2 How often is power and authority balanced in working relationships?

Acquiescence can often happen in the sport workplace, especially in instructional or coaching situations; these are often power relationships that can be either productive or oppressive. For example, research has demonstrated that professional coaches using video feedback in elite youth football dominate the conversation. The turn-taking that is a feature of balanced dialogue is made unequal as the coach controls the conversational direction (i.e. topics addressed) (Groom et al., 2012).

Activity 2 Your experience of power imbalance

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Think back to a recent conversation (ideally in a sport and fitness setting) where you felt that you had less power than the other person did, or even no power at all. Write notes about the following:

  • Who was this conversation with and why did you feel that you had less or no power?
  • How did you react during this conversation? For example, did you challenge them, acquiesce or become annoyed?
  • Using your experience of having limited power, how might this shape your behaviours when you find yourself in a position of power?


Communication is in many situations about making and maintaining connections with others. Professional relationships need to be established and maintained so that tasks or learning can be achieved. By being aware of the concepts of acquiescence and oppressive power, you can find ways of decreasing the perceived power differences and encouraging others to express themselves openly, including better understanding their needs. For example, the following may help with children: crouching down at a similar eye level, asking questions, finding ways for those that are silent to contribute in a non-threatening way and refraining from giving too much instruction and feedback.

Being aware of acquiescence and oppressive power imbalances is very useful when you observe and interpret workplace episodes and, arguably, this lies at the heart of the motor racing and ice skating examples you have viewed.