In Conflict Resolution, What's Power Got to Do with It?

Article excerpt

In Conflict Resolution, What's Power Got to Do with It?

The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution: A Practitioner's Guide.

By Bernard Mayer. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc. (www.josseybass.com), 2000. Hardcover. 288 pp. $34.95

The relationship of power and conflict is not usually something that crosses one's mind when browsing a book about ADR. But then this outstanding book by Bernard Mayer is something that must be read and not simply browsed.

Mayer, who draws on his two decades of experience as a mediator, facilitator, and ADR trainer, elevates the discussion of alternative dispute resolution into a higher level by delving deeper into the conceptual and theoretical framework of the terms "conflict" and "resolution." This thought-provoking book effectively challenges practitioners and scholars alike to go beyond the usual how-to discussion of dispute resolution.

The discussion of power as it relates to conflict is but one of the many things that the author discusses with much insight and wisdom. "Power is the currency of conflict," writes Mayer. "Whether its exercise is intentional or not, when people are engaged in conflict, their power is in play."

It is hard to disagree. Power, which Mayer defines as the "ability to get one's needs met and to further one's goals," is what one does see underneath any type of conflict. There is power at play when a teen-age daughter rebels against her parents, or a whistle-blower reveals his employer's illegal practices in public, or a nation declares war against its neighbor over a territorial dispute.

While the manifestations of power are countless, they all fall into two broad categories: structural (power that is based in the situation, such as political or financial power) and personal (individual characteristics, such as determination, communication skills, and wits). "As a general rule, conflict resolution systems and practitioners are more likely to be able to affect differentials rooted in personal power than in structure," writes Mayer.

The author debunks the myth that power can be balanced. He writes: "Instead of thinking that people need an equivalence or equality of power, we might more usefully think that people need an adequate basis of power to participate effectively in conflict. …