Power & Conflict Power's Role Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

After all, a person's sense of self-worth depends on feeling competent and able to influence what is happening in one's life. How much power we perceive ourselves to have directly influences our sense of self-esteem.

In a discussion of power currencies, Hocker & Wilmot (2007) say how much power we have depends on whether we have "currencies" other people want. In other words your power over another person rests on your having something to give them that they need. For example, in the days when women had few rights and little power in their marriages, they did have sex (a valuable currency), which they could give or withhold in order to exert power. But it depends on the relationship what the currency is. Sex isn't a currency in a business relationship, for instance, and perhaps it shouldn't be used as a currency in an intimate relationship.

Every person has potential currencies that can be used to gain power in a relationship.

Expertise, for instance, is power if others need it. Resource control is another form of power. For instance, when President Lyndon Johnson was in college he got into a position where he controlled all the student jobs on campus. Anybody that needed a job had to come to him. Jobs were his power currency at that time. Interpersonal linkages provide another source of power currency when you know somebody that could help somebody else. Finally, communication skills such as persuasiveness or empathic listening can become power currency with people who have a need to connect with someone else and to be understood.

All power is relationally connected. Being powerful is not a personal quality or characteristic or a "thing" that a person possesses. Somebody has to grant it to you because you have currencies they value. Power arises from the relationship dynamics. The situation helps to determine the power a person has in a relationship. Take, for example, the situation of domestic abuse. The husband verbally abuses his wife and seems to have "all the power" in the relationship. However, in the history of the relationship, the wife communicated the message that she needs him, no matter what. Abusing power is a product of the relationship between the two. One gave most of the power to the other because he had power currencies -- perhaps ability to take care of the dependent person, to earn money and support the family -- that she needed. The real issue is the balance (or imbalance) of power they have established in their relationship.

If both parties value the relationship, then maintaining a balance of power is essential.

Imbalances of power are found in most relationships, not just dysfunctional types, and conflict tends to make power discrepancies more apparent. Too much power can distort a person's view of him or herself and ultimately can destroy the relationship. Likewise, powerlessness is just as bad. If both parties believe they have no power over the other, the parties may fall into a destructive, escalatory conflict spiral. Each one tries to get more power over the other with the other retaliating in another round that brings more destructive actions. The fighting gets more and more dirty. Ending the relationship may be seen as the only way to regain power.

If we want a relationship to continue successfully over a long period of time, we have to continually re-adjust the power balance according to the circumstances. There are productive ways to balance power, but then again there are destructive ways too. It is far better for the relationship if the balancing is done in a productive manner that honors both parties.


Hocker, J.L. And Wilmot, W.W. (2007). Interpersonal conflict. Seventh Edition.…

Sources Used in Document:


Hocker, J.L. And Wilmot, W.W. (2007). Interpersonal conflict. Seventh Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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