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Conflict & Power Dynamics

Navigating conflict through an equity lens means acknowledging that we do not approach conflict in a neutral way. Not only are we cultural beings who come to conflicts with a complex set of lived experiences, worldviews, and values, but power dynamics play a role in how we move through conflict. Recognizing that power dynamics impact how we experience conflict, how we show up, and the approach we may need to be effective in addressing things will help us slow down to notice and surface the power we hold, name who has power over decision making, and who we could partner with to address the conflict. There are several facets of power that must be considered: power and privilege, positional power and personal power.

Power & Privilege

Throughout history, dominant cultures have emerged and shaped our society, practices and patterns, creating a system where some cultural identities have more or less power in society. As a result, the dominant culture’s way of navigating conflict is often seen as the right way. This often leads to people who are part of the dominant culture internalizing their way as the norm, and to them holding expectations of being respected or catered to. On the contrary, people of non-dominant cultures, when in conflict, might exhibit behaviors of assimilation, acquiescence or accommodation not because they agree but because they are in survival mode. Neither of these patterns are conducive to effective conflict resolution. Rather, they inhibit trust and truth telling - both which are needed in moving through conflict.

In order to disrupt these power dynamics, we must be aware of the power and privilege that our identities carry and how it may be impacting how we show up to conflict. When there is a lack of awareness of where we have power and privilege and how they impact conflict situations, we cannot build the skills necessary to create spaces that cultivate a sense of safety and trust which are important to navigating conflict.

Positional Power

For people in positions of power and authority, it is so important for them to take the lead on building a culture that normalizes conflict. This begins with positional leaders modeling how they’re inviting people to lean in and show up during conflict. They can do this by demonstrating authenticity and vulnerability, acknowledging when they make mistakes and then taking action towards repairing harm. These kinds of behaviors demonstrate humility and can contribute to bridging the chasm between leaders and their staff.

Personal Power

Personal power often gets forgotten, especially when we don’t have positional power or societal privilege, but we can’t overlook the importance of our personal agency. It can be a powerful resource for resilience and leaning in with one another. No matter our position, it is important to consider our sphere of influence and where we have power to exercise.

Explicitly naming power dynamics can foster trust building, open up communication, and deepen our understanding of the factors surrounding the issue. Trust can’t be assumed or expected. It must be intentionally built. When you observe conflict, it is so crucial to slow down, let go of our assumptions and get curious about the implicit and explicit ways that power is shaping the conflict.

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