I was under the impression that there was no implied power difference in the usage of the phrase. But I came across an answer here that mentioned that engaging with someone is taken to mean interacting with them "usually from a position of greater power".

I've often seen the phrase used in contexts like, "The government refused to engage with the anarchists." But now that I think of it, I can't recall seeing it used for someone with less power.

Would it be ok to say something like, "The priest was advised to spend more time engaging with the bishop."? Would it offend your business client if you told them that you hope to engage with them frequently in the first stage of the project?

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    The anarchists refused to engage with the government is also fine - what the word implies is just that the other side was prepared to talk. If you say we will engage with you frequently in the first stage of the project, you are (therefore) assuming that they are going to be happy to speak to you - but a) that sounds like a reasonable assumption and b) it is neutralised by hope anyway. I wouldn't worry about offending the client. – user339660 Jul 6 at 6:07
  • Thanks @Minty. Just to be clear, are you saying that the phrase "engage with" doesn't inherently imply anything about power differences - any such implication comes from the context? – TerrificToucan Jul 6 at 7:20
  • I agree with @Minty, and with your assessment of the opinion – Elby Cloud Jul 6 at 12:14

Engage in modern times no longer holds any real idea surrounding power difference - you can see from the basic definition on google:

  1. Occupy, attract, or involve (someone's interest or attention).
  2. Participate or become involved in.

But it is definitely rooted in the idea. You start to see this in the 2nd and 3rd definition from Merriam Webster:

2 a obsolete : to entangle or entrap in or as if in a snare or bog b : to attract and hold by influence or power c : to interlock with : MESH also : to cause (mechanical parts) to mesh engage the clutch

3: to bind (someone, such as oneself) to do something especially : to bind by a pledge to marry


The word originates from Old French Engagier, which means 'to pledge', which further brings power into the picture.

Further breaking up the word, the idea of a power difference becomes even more relevant.

The prefix 'En' starts innocently enough:

..general sense “to cause (a person or thing) to be in” the place, condition, or state named by the stem;


But then when you consider the word 'gage', the idea of a challenge or power difference becomes even more clear.


  1. something, as a glove, thrown down by a medieval knight in token of challenge to combat.

  2. Archaic. a challenge.

  3. Archaic. a pledge or pawn; security.


So you could say while the word no longer carries these meanings - it certainly seems to have strong roots surrounding power differences.

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