by Heidi Burgess
People don't like being coerced, and they tend to respond negatively--often lashing back--when coercion is used.
Exchange and respect are forms of power too, and can get cooperation without the downsides.
How: Power can be defined as the ability to create change. It can take any of three forms: force, exchange, or working together--"integrative power." In conflict, people typically turn quickly to force--trying to threaten or even attack their opponent in an effort to force them to change their behavior in a desirable way. Yet this usually results in resistance, not capitulation. And even if the opponent does comply, that capituation often comes at the cost of resentment and later backlash. Thus, as Kenneth Boulding and other leading conflict scholars argue, force is often the least effective form of power.
The two other power strategies: exchange (negotiation or trade) and integrative power (made up of love, respect, and legitimacy according to Boulding) are often more powerful than coercion. Used together in what Paul Wehr calls "the power strategy mix," they are usually far more effective than using coercion alone. The more you rely on the second two, and use as little coercion as possible, he said, the more lasting and effective your resulting change will be.
Why: Boulding long argued that exchange and love (his preferred term for integrative power) were both stronger than coercion, in that they were more often able to create the change one sought. And of all three, he argued that integrative power was the most significant and fundamental. His reasoning was that both coercive and exchange power must be legitimate to be fully effective, and legitimacy is an aspect of integrative power. So, too, are love and respect, which gain in strength when they are reciprocated--and bring about the change one seeks. Coercion, on the other hand, becomes less effective when it is reciprocated, and when that occurs (as it often does), it fails to create the change that was sought. Jesus, Muhammad and the Buddha, Boulding observed, were exemplars of integrative power. . None of the three had great coercive nor exchange power--yet they wielded tremendous influence.
For more information on Power Strategies and the Power Strategy Mix, see,
- Beyond Intractability (BI) Essay on Power
- BI Essay on Integrative Power
- BI Essay on Exchange Power
- BI Essay on Coercive Power
- Conflict Frontiers Post on Power and the Power Strategy Mix
- Conflict Practitioners Talk about Power and the Optimal Power Strategy Mix
HD14 Power: Have you used exchange, collaboration, or respect (Boulding's "love") instead of force to try to change someone's mind or behavior in a particularly tricky or difficult conflict situation? Tell us about what you did and how it worked out. Did it help? What did you learn from the experience? Or--have you talked someone else out of using force? How? To what end? (Answer in an email and we'll post it here!)