Business As Usual-4: Power and the Power Strategy Mix

Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess

Original: Spring 2016, Updated November 2019

You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.


This video differentiates between power sources and power strategies and explores Kenneth Boulding's notion of the "three faces" of power, along with Paul Wehr's notion of the "power strategy mix." Just like the last video that discussed the overuse of "I'll-fight-you-for-it-rules," overuse of coercive power often leads to conflict escalation and backlash.  It is far often better, we assert, to use a "softer" power strategy, dominated by integrative and/or exchange power, rather than coercive power, whenever possible.

Things to Think About:

  • Think about an intractable conflict you care about.
  • What kinds of people are involved? Persuadables, reluctant persuadables, traders, or incorrigibles?
  • What power strategies are being used to attain each sides’ goals?
  • Is this the OPTIMAL power strategy mix?  If not, what is?

Referenced Resources:

  • Maire Dugan, "Power" Beyond Intractability. 2003, Updated by Heidi Burgess, 2012.  Accessible at:
  • Gene Sharp, Power and Struggle (Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part I), (Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973)
  • Kenneth Boulding, Three Faces of Power. (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1989)
  • Peter Coleman, "Paradigmatic Framing of Protracted, Intractable Conflict: Toward the Development of a Meta-framework-II" Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology Volume 10Issue 3, 2004.

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Full Transcript:

Hi! This is Heidi Burgess with the fourth in the “Business As Usual” series. This one is looking at power and a more enlightened and effective way of thinking about and using power which was developed by a colleague of ours—Paul Wehr-- called the "power strategy mix."

Let’s start out by defining power. The article on Beyond Intractability that focuses on power was written by Maire Dugan. She defines power as “the ability to bring about change.” I go a little bit further than that because you want to be able to bring about change in the direction that you intend, and in the manner in which you intend. So I would say that “power is the ability to get what you want, or to do what you want, to bring about change towards the good – as you define good.”

Dugan also makes a distinction between “sources of power” and “kinds of power” or “power strategies.” Sources of power are where you get your power and power strategies is what you do with it. She turns to Gene Sharp, a leading theorist of nonviolence, to list five primary sources of power. Those are authority; human resources, or what I would call “people power,” or power in numbers; skills and knowledge; material resources; and a host of things that Sharp and Dugan refer to as “intangible factors” such as esprit de corps, faith, and obedience.

Kenneth Boulding referred to power strategies as the “three faces of power.”  He wrote a whole book with that title. These he metaphorically referred to as “the stick,” “the carrot,” and the “hug.” The stick refers to threat or force, the carrot refers to enticement or exchange, and the hug refers to what he called love, but then he said “if love seems too strong a word, substitute the word respect.” We also substitute the words “integrative power” or” collaborative power.”

Let’s talk about each one of these a little bit more.

The basic form of coercive power is “you better do as I say, or else!” Something bad will happen to you. It’s a threat, and if the threat is not complied with,  there will be a negative sanction. It might be a physical negative sanction such as violence, or it might be an emotional sanction such as embarrassing someone. Either way it’s responding in a threatening, coercive, punitive way.

Exchange power is exchanging rewards with someone who does what you want. So, “if you do this for me, I will do that for you”. That’s basic negotiation. It’s what’s we do all the time when we work to earn money, it’s what we do when we buy something--we give somebody money for something we want. Whenever we give something to get something, that gives us power and it gives the other side power as well. We each get what we want and we did it by using exchange power.

Integrative power, or respect, love, or the hug is the most fundamental form of power. Boulding points out that the other two do not work without it, but it can work without the other two. I have a picture of Martin Luther King here because that is the power that he used extensively. He did use coercion, with the threat of massive public protests if the government didn’t agree to his demands. At times he negotiated too. I was very surprised to find out that he offered to negotiate where the line would be drawn in the bus after Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back. (This was a story that I got from Taylor Branch’s history of that era called Parting the Waters.) However the White Citizens Council refused to negotiate and we got, as a result, complete desegregation of the buses, the schools, and other public facilities. But mostly King used integrative power – convincing the white establishment that discriminating against blacks was against fundamental American values. They changed because they were persuaded it was the right thing to do.
Integrative power is also extremely important because you can consider it the glue that holds our culture together. It holds couples together, families, religious groups, work groups, communities,  and nation states. If we didn’t have integrative power, we would disintegrate into thousands of individuals fighting with each other.

power mix graphic

A lot of other people have come up with similar descriptions. In the chart above, you see Boulding’s list on the left, which closely parallels feminist theory which talks about “power over” and “power with.” Peter Coleman, whom I’ve mentioned in earlier videos and will mention in the future, talks about the realist paradigm (the stick or coercion) and the human relations paradigm (integration or the hug) which are basically the same ideas. I teach about conflict styles --and they relate here too. The competitive conflict style primarily uses the stick approach, the compromise conflict style uses the carrot or exchange, and the cooperative conflict style uses the hug or the integrative system.

A colleague of Kenneth Bolding’s and ours, Paul Wehr, took one step beyond Boulding’s notion of three faces of power to develop the notion of the “power strategy mix.” The basic idea is that most often you use these different types of power together. They aren’t often or best used in isolation. When I teach about this, I talk about it being like a recipe – sometimes you need a lot of one ingredient and not much of another.  But if you are cooking something else, you might need an equal amount of all three, or a lot of a different ingredient and none of the first.

power mix graphic

This leads to a rather complicated graph.  Across the top, below the black arrow which says “types of people,” you’ll see that we have listed four different categories of people. People who are easily convinced to do what you want we refer to as “persuadables.” People who might do what you want with considerable pushing are called “reluctant persuadables.” People who don’t really care about the principle, but are willing to trade are called “traders.” And people who have their heels stuck in the sand and, by gosh, they’re not going to compromise! --we’ve talked about that type before--we call them “incorrigibles.”

So in order to use power most effectively, it’s important to figure out which type of person you’re dealing with, and design your power strategy mix accordingly.

At the bottom of the chart you can see that coercive power is illustrated with red, exchange power is illustrated with green, and collaborative power is illustrated with white. So if you decide you’re working with somebody who is likely a persuadable, why use a lot of coercive power? All it’s going to do is make them mad! You might not even need to exchange much, because you might be able to convince them to do what you want without giving them much, if anything, in exchange, because you can convince them that it is the right thing to do. With them, you should use primarily integrative power – they’ll do what you want because they love you, they respect you, or they know it is right.  (So this column might not need any red or green in it at all--it probably, actually, should be all white!)

If you’re dealing with a trader, you should use mostly exchange. You may use some persuasion to try to explain to them why the exchange that you’re proposing makes sense, and you might need to use a little bit of coercion to try to get them to listen to you in the first place. But mostly you use exchange.

If you have somebody or a group who are really stuck in the sand, then you don’t really have much choice. You have to use primarily coercion--you have to force them to budge.

You’ll note that the fourth tower to the right is much skinnier than the others. That’s not an accident-- it’s on purpose. It’s because most people aren’t incorrigible – even though we often think they are. Most people fall into one of the other three categories. So if you routinely use “I’ll-fight-you-for-it-rules” as Guy talked about in the last video, you’re going to be wasting coercion. You’re going to be needlessly making a lot of people angry and risking backlash (something I’ll talk about in the next video). You should use a different power strategy mix.

In the second to the left tower – I didn’t talk about that one before--those are reluctant persuadables. For them, you need some coercion to get their attention, some exchange to again engage them, but still mostly persuasion once you have their attention.

So the key here is you don’t use the same power strategy with everybody. And you don’t fall back on “I’ll-fight-you-for-it rules” except in exceptional circumstances with people who are really stuck in the mud. Much better to use a softer power strategy mix.

So once again I have some questions for you. Think about an intractable conflict that you care about. What kind of people are involved? Are they mostly persuadables, reluctant persuadables, traders, or incorrigibles? What power strategies are now being used to try to attain each sides’ goals? Is this power strategy working? If not, what power strategy mix might work better?

For example, think about any of the major public policy conflicts we’re facing in the United States. Consider gun control for example. What kind of people are involved in this conflict? What power strategies are being used to try to get them to do what you want them to do? Are these power strategies optimal? I’ll give you a hint-- I don’t think so! So if you agree with me, what would work better?

Referenced Resources:

  • Maire Dugan, "Power" Beyond Intractability. 2003, Updated by Heidi Burgess, 2012.  Accessible at:
  • Gene Sharp, Power and Struggle (Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part I), (Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973)
  • Kenneth Boulding, Three Faces of Power. (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1989)
  • Peter Coleman, "Paradigmatic Framing of Protracted, Intractable Conflict: Toward the Development of a Meta-framework-II" Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology Volume 10Issue 3, 2004.

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