Diversity of values, competing needs, and miscommunication are just a few of the common causes of conflict. And like the human experience, no two are exactly alike, yet all share a common denominator. That common denominator is the presence of power. Power is in all relationships and all conflicts. It informs how much we’re willing to go out on a limb when we speak up in a conflict or how much we’re willing to give up in a relationship.
For instance, if an employee is in conflict with her boss, she may not feel she has enough power to assert herself by asking to get her needs met. On the other hand, if she’s a member of a union, her power base supports her quest in meeting her needs and offers a process for resolution.
Another example of the presence of power in conflict is the conflict between a mother and her preschooler. We’ve all witnessed it. A little boy is incessantly crying for candy at the check out counter and his mother says, “no.” The child throws himself on the floor, kicking and screaming. This toddler is exerting his power with his greatest weapon: his ability to create a scene in order to embarrass her. While he may be much smaller than his mother, his screams are a powerful force to be reckoned with and carry far more weight than if he were in the privacy of their home. The question is, what will the mother do? Will she cave? Will she ignore him? How she reasserts her power over him is all part of the power struggle.
Knowing how much power you have in a conflict and how much power the other party has is vital to achieving a successful outcome. Assessing the power dynamic is something we all do in a split second at our most primal level. It’s built in to our survival mechanisms in order to alert us to danger. However, we rarely think of it in those terms. In fact, often there’s nothing conscious about it. So the next time you’re in conflict, consciously evaluate the balance of power and weigh your options before acting. The strategic planning may give you a better outcome than you originally thought possible.