Addressing Power Dynamics in Conflict Resolution: Insights For Large Organizations

Published: July 12, 2023 | Last Updated: December 4, 2023by Kent McGroarty

Conflicts arise in companies of all sizes. When problems erupt within large organizations, the ripple effects can be felt throughout various departments. And while taking a closer look at power dynamics within your company and finding the right conflict resolutions can be challenging and even uncomfortable, it will benefit your company in the long term. You’ll enjoy a healthier, more open workplace where everyone can communicate. Let’s dig deeper into how to address power dynamics during conflict resolution sessions and how to best promote a positive, healthy work environment.

Navigating Conflicts: Hierarchical Structures

As important as hierarchies often are in business, they can also breed resentment, competition, and tension. Creativity can get dampened, as can the willingness of employees to voice their opinions. As some employees get promoted and others do not, competition can turn to jealousy, rivalry, and perhaps petty gossip. Those who advance within a large organization might not always be the ones who deserve it.

While ensuring everyone is treated with optimal fairness and has the opportunity to share their opinions and ideas is not always possible, there are many ways to create a positive hierarchy. A few ideas include:

  • Make Expertise the Focal Point: As obvious as expertise is in terms of workplace promotion, it does not always occur. Some people might get promoted because of how well they know certain individuals within the organization, because of how they look, or simply because they are the most vocal. When such people advance despite not having the expertise and other necessary qualifications, resentment among their former co-workers is inevitable. Those at the top of the organization should know the most about the company and how to move forward for maximum brand awareness and revenue. By making expertise and related experience the sole reasons for promotion, you’ll not only avoid workplace tension, but you’ll also save your company from issues such as low-performance levels and shadow hierarchies. The latter issue occurs when a group of employees wants to get rid of the existing hierarchy, which negatively affects the business’s stability.
  • Opt For the Pyramid Model: In a pyramid or triangular hierarchy, the lower level of employees is considerably wider. This allows these individuals to enjoy more support, help, and feedback from one another. Social and professional support does not necessarily happen in the latter model, particularly since there are often more issues regarding power and status. Consider researching the pyramid business model and thinking critically about how you can apply it to your company.
  • Allow Employees to Gain “Ownership”: Avoiding inferiority complexes and resentment within a business hierarchy can include allowing employees to have ownership over their ideas or certain areas of the company. Team members get to utilize their special skills, whatever they may be, which helps them stand out, make more decisions, and generally feel better about their work. Being able to specialize in various areas of the business also stresses to employees that they are building careers instead of functioning like rungs on the corporate ladder.

Photo of Group Discussion

Navigating Conflict: Power Imbalances

Power imbalances within large organizations can occur despite best efforts, which again creates resentment and anger. If a power imbalance should arise in your company, it can cause serious issues even if it is perceived instead of real. To solve this type of conflict, it can help to bring in an impartial mediator. Professional mediators frequently deal with power imbalance-related workplace issues and know how to resolve them to sidestep further miscommunication, resentment, and anger that affects the business on a bigger scale. Some of the methods mediators use to resolve power imbalances include:

  • Discussions About Employee Feelings: Mediators typically start by having the employees talk about their feelings. Team members want to feel understood and heard, so determining the root of the issue(s) immediately makes it clear to employees that they are in a safe, non-judgmental space and that there is no reason to be angry or scared.
  • Hypotheticals: Next, mediators might ask team members to think about how they would feel tomorrow morning if the issue was resolved today. Would they have the same feelings of resentment towards their supervisor, or would they feel vindicated and ready to work? Other hypothetical questions can include asking what they would like the manager to do differently, such as treating everyone the same instead of having obvious favorites. Questions that focus on the future help the employees cease thinking about their current power issues and resentful feelings and instead think of themselves as partially responsible for the business’s work environment. They also start considering how their relationships with their supervisors positively affect them.
  • Role-Playing Techniques: Depending on the situation, the mediator might elect to use role-playing activities as a way to foster positive dynamics. Employee-supervisor role-playing sessions often help both parties see their positions from new perspectives and make healthy changes that contribute to tranquil work environments.

More Tips For Promoting Fairness and Inclusivity in the Workplace

Dealing with hierarchical structure-related power balances is naturally different for every company, making it important to tailor the above strategies as you and your mediator, if applicable, see fit. The following tips can also be adjusted to satisfy specific workplace needs:

  • Be a Good Example: Modeling good workplace behavior starts with the managers and anyone else in supervisor-like positions. If you do not set the standard for employee behavior, you cannot expect much. This is true no matter how large or small the business is, or what type of enterprise you are working for.
  • Adjust the Rules as Necessary For Fairness Reasons: Perhaps an old rule or set of rules at your company has continued to create turmoil and strife. Making a clear point to change any guidelines and rules that no longer serve the team shows that you care about their well-being, and want them to feel comfortable and succeed. It also demonstrates your flexibility and dedication to eliminating anything in the ‘archaic’ category.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Keeping the communication lines open with your team helps prevent small issues from becoming large problems. It allows employees to talk to you about any questions or concerns they have, which contributes to fewer production interruptions and feelings of animosity. While communicating with your employees should not affect your own workload, consider keeping your office door open or making it clear team members can ping you or request a Zoom chat whenever they need assistance. Employees generally feel better and more like part of a team when they know their managers are within reach.
  • Be Transparent About Promotions: Most employees want to get ahead at their jobs as soon as possible, so be open and transparent about what the promotions process includes every time one is available. Being able to follow a transparent structure helps employees feel more hopeful about their chances and limits the number of related questions they receive. It is also a good idea to ask for feedback about promotion processes to improve them with every round and work with employees regarding goal tracking. Creating goals regularly improves productivity and gives employees extra incentives to improve.
  • Create an Appeals Process: When employees feel like they have been treated unfairly or have questions about workplace inclusivity, they should be able to discuss their concerns without feeling anxious, judged, or fearful of losing their jobs. Creating and installing an appeals process provides employees with the peace of mind they want in the event of various issues. They have the chance to outline their problems in detail and do not have to add their names unless they want to, though some situations may call for names in addition to dates and times. Depending on the severity of the issue(s), you might have to alert higher management to resolve the problem.
  • Keep Paychecks Fair: Your team should be compensated fairly for the hard work they do every day. Equal compensation in light of job type avoids high turnover rates, resentment, anger, and similar issues. When employees are not compensated equally for doing the same job and having the same experience, word spreads quickly. Rather than allowing the rumor mill to churn, ensure the paychecks remain reasonable and fair.

Remember, creating a more fair, inclusive work environment takes time, and there is nothing wrong with that. As long as you are vocal about the changes you want to make and keep employees up-to-date as often as possible, you’ll see positive results. Again, employees want to know that their managers are invested in their success and are committed to healthy work environments. Your company’s reputation will likely enjoy a wonderful boost from your efforts since more and more people will describe it as a fantastic place to grow, learn, and do better every day.

For professional assistance with conflict management and resolution training to create a more harmonious work environment, please contact Pollack Peacebuilding! We are here to help you create the positive, thriving workplace you and your team want. Learn what we will do for your team today.

Avatar for Kent McGroarty

Kent McGroarty