Communication & Conflict Final Project
The Nature of Power in Conflict:
Power can be defined in many ways. Most simply, it is the ability to get what you want. Power is a fundamental concept in any conflict. The nature of that power can depend upon how the power is distributed, how it is viewed, and how it is used. There can be power struggles between those that feel very powerful and those that feel that they have little to no power. The different individual perceptions of power within a conflict can affect communication. Power can be distributed in three distinct ways: distributive, designated, and integrated (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007). Distributive power comes from the ability to reach objectives over the resistance of another. Designated power is power that is given to someone because of a position (such as a politician that is voted into office to represent people in a certain area). Integrated power highlights power with another to achieve goals that are acceptable to all parties involved in the conflict. All three different forms of power can affect a conflict in several different ways. When we look at distributive power, we can see how one person may feel like a high power person and someone feel like a person with low power. This can lead to a power imbalance which will also lead to the conflict being unbalanced.
This can lead the parties to feel that they are in an either / or circumstance and the parties may feel justified to use "dirty tricks" to muster more power in the conflict. It can also lead to one person feeling like a victim. In such a situation, communication may be hindered if one is power hungry loses sight of the actual conflict.
Things may start to be seen as a win / lose situation and the dispute becomes a struggle (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007). A person feeling that they are in a low power position may struggle with what to say and may keep information or resources that are needed.
Designated power is different in the communicative process because it is power that is given to someone because of their position. If we take politics for instance, it is easy to see that the politician is one with a higher power stance and the voters with the lower power stance once the politician is in office. During the voting process, the voter is in the position of one with a higher power and the power shifts once the politician is in office. This is a great example of how power is fluid (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007). If one wrote to their particular politician at any point in time, he or she would be more than likely to receive a form letter than a true letter, phone call, or a knock at the door. This can lead a person back to feeling like he or she is a victim. Once a politician gets into office it virtually destroys the "relationship" because the politician is not emotionally invested with each person that voted.
Integrated power is perhaps the most sought after form of power in a conflict. This type of power helps the different parties involved in the conflict achieve mutually acceptable goals (Wilmot and Hocker). This can lead to a constructive conflict that focuses on interdependence and with an open flow of communication between the parties involved. When people heighten their interdependence on each other, all sources of power increase (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007). When we use power constructively, we stand a better chance at resolving a conflict because we begin to think outside of the box and enhance relationships with co-workers, family, or friends.
Power is a reflection of our ability to organize, focus and direct our own and others energy towards imagined and selected goals or outcomes. At its best both individual and collective power is grounded in self-discipline and self-regulation. Failing this it runs the danger of becoming 'power over' rather than 'power with' others, domination and exploitation...