Conflict Management Conflict Management

Why the study of conflict is important

Key elements of conflict

The nature of conflict

Variables in the study of conflict

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Variables in the Study of Conflict

Power Climate
Goals Cultural Assumptions
Gender Strategies and Tactics
Perception Style 


Power as inherent trait or function of the relationship  

Power:  Is it an inherent trait? The first view paints power as a characteristic of an individual, or a quality automatically bestowed on an individual who controls wealth, property, or resources. At its simplest, power is seen an as inborn trait, like eye color.  In this view, one's power would remain the same regardless of whom one interacts with. Power would be carried from interaction to interaction. Few theorists adhere to a genetic or inherited power perspective.  


Power:  Is it a function of the relationship? The second view describes power as a component of relationships among people.  In relational power, an individual only has power to the extent that the characteristic or resource is valued by the other person. In the characteristic perspective, those with wealth would inherently have more power. The relational view, however, asserts that wealth means little or nothing to individuals stranded on a deserted island or to individuals who have decided to live a life without possessions. Put another way, power exists only in specific relationships.  


Relational power: dependency or currency


Power: Is it derived from dependency? The dependency metaphor suggests we give another person power over us when we are dependent on them for a resource or service. In this view, the landlord has power over tenants in a situation where there is a shortage of housing. The potential tenant needs housing; housing is scarce; therefore, landlords have relative power. In a city where there are many vacant rentals, tenants have choices among landlords and do not need any particular landlord's resources. Instead, landlords need renters to maintain a degree of profitability; therefore, tenants have relative power.  

It is the degree of dependency that creates the power relationship. Power based on dependency is easy to spot in some romantic relationships. One individual may genuinely adore someone else and need that person's love. If the object of his or her desire does not share the same depth of feeling, the power relationship is imbalanced, giving power to the person who is the object of affection--who is less involved. Put another way, the person with the least dependency has the most power. In 1962, Emerson created a formula to determine dependence power.  

Power:  Is it currency to be traded? In 1956, French and Raven suggested that power is derived primarily from five sources:  the ability to reward others, the ability to punish others (coercion), holding legitimate office or rank, knowing other people (reference), and having expert skill or knowledge.  

We can think of power as currency. Currency is useful only because we can exchange it for needed goods or services.  Likewise, power is like currency in that it enables us to make connections with or influence others--our currency is worthwhile only if it is valued by the other person.  To the extent that what is valued varies wildly from individual to individual, it is a good idea for conflict managers to develop a thorough understanding of power currencies.  

Modern views of power as currency includes numerous potential sources of power:  

  1. Control of tangible resources such as property, money and land
  2. Authority titles, positions or legal judgments, for example granted by institutions
  3. Expert knowledge or skill in specific subject areas
  4. Control of resources by making work easier and issuing degrees of cooperation
  5. Links to a community and access to many people
  6. Endurance, stamina, will and a record of finishing projects
  7. Cultural traditions and history, which provide a firm grounding
  8. Communication skills such as listening, speaking, or knowing more than one language
  9. Traditional logic and reasoning skills
  10. People skills and the ability to help individuals bond together as a group
  11. General personal competence and dependability
  12. Self worth, integrity and self-esteem
  13. An ethical sense of community and morality
  14. Openness to wisdom through spirituality

Remember, while we tend to discuss variables that affect conflict one at a time, the variables actually are all in play simultaneously.  When we think about all the many lines of influence or connection that exist between two individuals, we must conclude that power is complex and multidimensional.  

Sources for the power variable discussion include Boulding, 1989; Folger, Poole, and Stutman 1997; Lulofs, 1994; Wilmot and Hocker, 1998.  


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