Got conflict? Use the power law

Posted by  Andrew Rixon —November 18, 2005
Filed in Communication

Imagine this scenario of how conflict might arise in a group:

You are facilitating a meeting. Everything is going great. During an action planning session one participant stands up, looks around the room assertively and says “I’ve done a quick analysis and it’s clear that there are parallels and similarities between several group’s work here. Right. We need to do this, this and this. Let’s form a group over here and we can get started and have this knocked off in no time flat…”

Question: What do you do?

A great insight which Vic McWaters explained to me is the power of power. In fact, let’s call it the power law:

Conflict often arises when there is a differential in power. To address conflict, reduce the power differential.

In our example, the conflict arose out of one person threatening to railroad the group onto a new track. What has happened is that the person has just changed the power differential in the group. They want to be ‘high power.’ They want to lead. Using our power law, what needs to be done is to reduce the power differential which this person has just created.

Answer: Ask the group “What would you like to do?” This simple question helps bring the balance of power back to the group and at the same time addresses (and reduces) the power gap created between the participant and the group.

Think about the times when you have faced or anticipated conflicts in a group. When have you been able to observe a power differential and then act to address that differential?

About  Andrew Rixon

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