We cannot, in all honesty, have a frank conversation about conflict if we do not discuss the influence of power in conflict. Conflict is relational. Power is relational. Conflict is negotiable. Power is negotiable.
French and Raven (1959) defined five types of power.
- Reward—power from the ability to provide rewards for specific responses or behaviors
- Referent—power through interpersonal relationship or the ability to influence
- Expert—power based on knowledge or skills
- Coercive—power based on fear of a negative consequence
- Legitimate—power based on a specific position of authority
Within conflict, power can be wielded as power over through aggressive or assertive tactics or as a partnership in integrative tactics (Jones & Brinkert, 2008). In addition, power can be expressed directly, indirectly, or be kept hidden (Folger, Poole, & Stutman, 2008). The key to productive conflict rests in our ability to objectively explore our own assumptions about power and goals in both the conflict and the relationship. Often this requires us to share initial power by being vulnerable enough to have the conversation. If we are in the natural position of power, it requires us to give up our advantage. If we are in the natural position of weakness, it requires us to present even more vulnerability. Often, we have to weigh these options and choose based on what we are willing to give up in comparison to the potential gains.
What are some ways to engage in an integrative sharing of power in conflict?
- Build cooperation through dialogue (an upcoming post will address this in more detail).
- Actively listen to the other’s needs and goals.
- Express your needs and goals in terms that the other understands.
- Understand the role of emotions in the conflict for both you and the other.
- Brainstorm possible solutions together.
In the next post on conflict we will tackle productive conflict dialogue! Let us know how these ideas on conflict are helping you navigate work and family conflicts.
Check out the next post in this series on using dialogue to build bridges.
Contributed by Liz Hunt
Folger, J.P., Poole, M.S., & Stutman, R.K. (2013). Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations. 7th Ed. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Jones, T.S., & Brinkert, R. (2008). Conflict Coaching: Conflict Management Strategies and Skills for the Individual. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.