Power based resolution in Mediation

How to cite this journal: Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post, ISSN:
2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/journal/

There are, of course, many responses to conflict. Two common alternatives to the processes outlined in this note are avoidance, a refusal to acknowledge or engage in the problem; and unilateral decision-making, in which one of the disputants’ requests (or allows) a third party to independently decide on an outcome to the dispute without a formal process.

In practice, parties in conflict will frequently draw from components of all three procedures— some discussion of interests, some reliance on rights, and some attempts to use power. The ways people process or resolve disputes or attempt to make decisions are, consensual, adjudicative, or legislative in nature. Consensual dispute resolution means that the disputants themselves decide the process and the outcome. Consensual dispute resolution processes include Negotiation, Facilitation, and Mediation. An Adjudicative dispute resolution means that a third party makes a binding decision for the parties. Adjudicative approaches include arbitration and court adjudication.

Legislative approaches to dispute resolution focus on rule-making by a group, organization, formal legislative body, or ruler. Disputes over the interpretation or application of rules may be resolved through consensual or adjudicative means. The other option is resolution through coercion or force. This is an application of power.

Definitions of power include the ability to do, act, or produce; the ability to control others; authority; sway; influence; a person or thing having great influence, force, or authority; and the ability to regulate, restrain, or curb. Power is the ability to have one’s way against the wishes of another. Consequently, resolving conflicts by the imposition of will seldom leads to peace. However, there are many situations when resolving a conflict by power is appropriate. For example, a patient in a hospital emergency with a cardiac arrest or in other emergency situations a clear command or forced action is more likely to assure safety and security.

Interests, rights, and power are ways of looking at and resolving conflict. When conflicts are defined in terms of interests rather than power or rights, people tend to cooperate rather than compete. Satisfying an interest is emotionally easier to accept than compelling action through power or seeking third-party assistance, such as litigation or arbitration. Interest-based options focus on meeting the interests of the stakeholders in a particular dispute. Interests consist of fears, concerns, needs, hopes, and expectations.

The “right-based” option seeks to create or enforce a right for one or both sides of the dispute. Rights enforcement is commonly conducted through the judicial system, but other systems, such as arbitration or grievance procedures may also be utilized. Rights-based options are to hear and enforce the “rights” of disputants. The option may address both legal and non-legal rights. They determine whether a right has been violated and what the remedy for that violation should be.

Interest or human needs are the physical and non-physical elements needed for human survival, growth, and development. These needs include individual and collective security, identity, recognition, belongingness, personal fulfillment, and the capacity for self-determination.

Whenever possible, seek interest-based resolutions, then rights enforcement, and finally, if all else fails, use a power-based process. Rights enforcement is the ability to have a third party decides that one may act against the wishes of another. If the conflict becomes long-lasting or emotional, disputants may choose aggressive behaviors that range from exchanging insults to sabotage, even escalating to open warfare. A conflict resolution method that focuses primarily on power is called a “power-based” procedure because it involves the resolution of the dispute based on the resources each side has available and has the capacity and willingness to use.

Rights are independent standards of fairness or legitimacy that are either socially recognized or formally established in law or contract. Such standards include reciprocity, precedent, equality, and seniority. Power is often defined as the “…ability to achieve outcomes one desires—get things done in the way you want them to be done.”

Rights enforcement is appropriate when one party of a conflict has systematically oppressed another party. Rights enforcement is also appropriate when one party refuses to acknowledge an injustice or injury. However, rights enforcement may lead to more conflict when it is the conflict resolution method of choice. The “power” often does not require justification for fairness – as it might for certain rights or interest-based options. Power-based mediation is an exercise in which the mediator has interests and operates in the context of power politics and cost‐benefit calculation.

It was found that a mediator intervenes in many global conflicts because of its interest in the conflict or in obtaining an outcome, and it can play three roles‐communicator, formulator, manipulator‐ in accomplishing its objectives. The mediator is accepted by the parties, not because of its neutrality but because of its ability to produce an attractive outcome. The mediator’s power, or leverage, comes from the parties’ need for a solution, from its ability to shift weight among parties, and from side payments. In addition, there are power-based negotiations, which involve an exchange of threats, and power contests.

There are three different views with respect to mediators’ own conceptions of power. The first group viewed power as the ability to impose one’s will on another through the use of subject expertise; the second group adopted this definition but also indicated that the idea of power encompasses the ability to manage the issue agenda; and the third approach to power encapsulated the two preceding frameworks but added that the idea of power also includes the capacity to shape interests and preferences (Hanycz, 2005).

A Mediator intervenes because of its interest in the conflict or in obtaining an outcome, and it can play three roles-communicator, formulator, manipulator- in accomplishing its objectives. Power is understood as the ability to coerce someone into doing something he would not otherwise do. It may be imposed option as one party may impose his decision on another party. Exercising power is typically a matter of imposing costs on the other side or threatening to do so, whether through acts of aggression or withholding the benefits that derive from a relationship. Either party may believe that it has the power to coerce or compel the other party to concede.

So, what may be the likely outcomes of these different approaches that you should be aware of before you begin to formulate a strategy of your own? Focusing only on who is right—as in litigation and arbitration—or on who is more powerful—as in sabotage or unilateral decision-making—risks leaving at least one party perceiving herself as the loser.

The mediator observes that two parties are in a power struggle against one another to dominate each other and also find the injustices each has suffered and the interests each wishes satisfied. Moderator can pursue the parties can work cooperatively to satisfy all of the interests between them. By reframing the conflict as interest-based rather than power-based, you can move the parties from competitive hostility to cooperative teamwork.

Mediation is a process of dialogue and negotiation in which a third party assists two or more disputant parties, with their consent, to prevent, manage or resolve a conflict without resort to force. An effective dispute resolution system may look like a pyramid: most disputes are resolved through reconciling interests, some through determining who is right, and the fewest through determining who is more powerful.

International mediation in national conflicts relies too much on power-based diplomacy, attempting to make progress by exerting pressure on the disputant parties through declarations, admonitions, threats, and punishment. Power-based diplomacy tries to bully the parties into a settlement, rather than confidence-building mediation seeks to build their confidence in each other and come to a resolution with a win-win situation.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Daniel Erdmann

    Dear Mohammad,

    thank you for your perspectives. I truly like one of the points that you highlightened, namely that the management of a conflict can be realized in different ways, based on diverse conflict conceptions and abilities to handle it. Being a mediator, makes us often face unique settings of conflicts, while not only the term itself may be understood in a unique way, but also the expectations towards the mediator, and the corresponding professional skills. I believe that too often people rush through the assessment section of conflict management. Personally, I see here at the very beginning of the consultation the highest potential in settling the dispute in an acurate way. It is the skill of mindfully analyzing the information that is provided by the disputants, putting it in question, and make the parties reflect on the fact if this is truly the conflict that they want to be involved in. Alternatively, there are normally many steps in conflict prevention that are simply ignored.

    Best regards, Daniel Erdmann

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