Conflict Leadership

Sources of Power in Conflict

Leaders have conflict. No matter how good a leader is, conflict is an issue that leaders must learn to deal with and navigate. And within conflict there are specific sources of power I would like to share with you.


My sources of power in conflict are listening, asking defining questions, building cooperation, and clearly stating what I want. These sources of power are what you might expect from an introverted man because they are more subtle and silent than what most people have. Let me explain to you in more detail why I believe these are my sources of power.

A. Listening

I feel that I am good at listening, and that gives me power and influence with someone because when a person feels heard, he might be more open to hearing what I have to say. Another source of my power in conflict is that I am good at asking defining questions. After doing a good job of listening to someone, I think I am pretty good at asking follow up questions. These follow up questions help me correctly understand what the person is saying which helps them feel not just heard but also understood. This gives me power because someone who feels heard and understood is more likely to listen to me and allow me to influence them.

B. Building Cooperation

Another source of my power in conflict is building cooperation. When working with someone, I know that in order for us to come to a conclusion there needs to be some win/win situations. And that means I need to find a way to cooperate with the other person where we agree on something that we can both benefit from. This gives me power because when I help us cooperate together it communicates to the other person I do not want them to get bamboozled. It shows them that I care for them and want them to positively benefit from the conflict just like I hope to positively benefit from it.

C. Expressing My Need

My last source of power in conflict is that I feel that I am good at clearly stating what I want. We have learned about goals and how those change the way we navigate conflict. When I am able to share my goal for an issue, the focus on interests (or goals) allows individuals to seek shared solutions to common interests.[ref]Lawrence E. Ressler, Making Peace with Conflict: Practical Skills for Conflict Transformation, ed. Carolyn Schrock-Shenk and Lawrence Ressler, Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999), 104.[/ref] This gives me power because when I state my goal in a clear and non-threatening way, it allows the other person and I to work towards it.


These sources of power – listening well, asking defining questions, and attempting to build cooperation – have definitely defined and positively affected various relationships in my life.

I say this because when I listen to people, they feel heard and at a minimum they feel a little respected. When I ask them defining questions they feel understood. When I work with the other person to build cooperation, it allows us to work together and feel that we are positively trying to resolve the conflict. Also, if there has been hurt feelings or pain involved in the conflict (which there usually are), this process of listening, asking defining questions, and clearing stating my goals allows for those feelings to be shared. And if nothing else, sharing those feelings is going to help that person release some of his own anger and angst resulting from the conflict.

I would like to add to this that if people are allowed to be heard, feel understood, and encouraged to cooperate with me, it helps them to not feel victimized. Victimization is an issue to be navigated around during conflict because in class we learned “people in conflict (often both people) feel victimized.”[ref]Larry Dunn, Ph.D., “The Dynamics of Conflict” (lecture, Fresno Pacific University-North Center Campus, Fresno, CA, December 8, 2011).[/ref] Even if the other person and I do not resolve the conflict, the sources of power that I use at least allow non-threatening conflict to happen, which positively helps people know that I listened, tried to resolve the conflict, and that I respect their opinion even if it is different than mine.

I have learned that conflict transformation is not always about completely resolving the conflict because, “Sometimes all we can do in conflicts is to keep the destruction from spiraling out of control, or negotiate an uneasy ‘balance of terror’” (William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict, 8th ed., 103). I think that because of my style of displaying power in conflict can be seen passive and non-confrontational, sometimes people might see me as weak. This sometimes leads people to think they can run over me with power. When people begin trying to overpower me it becomes difficult to have productive conflict because I have to be strong, powerful, and raise my voice often. Even if it is in front of other people, that assertiveness and direct confrontation style needs to be done sometimes to show others that I am not going to allow them to overpower and bully me.


Power, like anything else, can be abused if it is used too much. Since the sources of my power are more silent and not as obvious, I am not sure if I have “used” or “abused” my power very much. I think there have been a couple of times when the defining questions I asked were slightly manipulative.

At times, I allow my strength of listening and asking questions to direct the conversation in a way that gets the person I am in conflict with to agree with me. Or my questions might manipulate the person to agree with my point of view and say that I am right without me evening sharing my point of view or statement of what I believe is right. Even though I have only abused these sources of power a couple of times, it has been hurtful to me and the other person in conflict because it breaks down trust.

Power in American culture seems to be something that people admire when they think it is used for something that benefits them, and they view power as something bad when they feel power was used inappropriately over them. One book describes power in this way, “Humans have long craved control. They have understood the potential power that comes with working together. They have also used power for self-preservation and self-promoting.”[ref]Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, Making Peace with Conflict: Practical Skills for Conflict Transformation, ed. Carolyn Schrock-Shenk and Lawrence Ressler, Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999), 132.[/ref] People in American culture seem to view power as telling someone else what to do with no option to do otherwise. Or they view power as when they tell someone that they are going to do something with no option for anyone else to do otherwise.

However, as I have shared, my sources of personal power are more subtle and silent than how the world often defines and looks at power. Based on my experience of using good listening, defining questions, building cooperation, and clearly stating what I want, I have good sources of power that are very effective.


By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at