Win-Win-Win: Conflict, Power, and Privilege (Part 2)

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Picture courtesy of filminvasio.com

In our last blog, we discussed three different strategies for conflict resolution:

  • Win-Win (We both win)
  • Win-Lose (I win, and you lose)
  • Lose-Lose (I lose, but I take you down with me)

Feel free to read the article if you haven’t already.  Today, I want to engage in conflict resolution through a lens of equality and inclusion that seeks to dismantle power and privilege.

Because employing one of the three strategies above isn’t always about caring about the other person, it is sometimes about getting needs met and protecting ones’ humanity.  Looking at the strategies above from a place that assumes everyone has equal power and privilege, my previous blog makes sense.  But we don’t live in a vacuum.  We live in the world (and in a field) today, which is steeped in systems designed to keep power and privilege in comfort for those who have it.

As a white, cisgender, heterosexual man, I have the privilege to find spaces where people will approach me from a default win-win conflict resolution strategy. On social media, although the default is sometimes win-lose, people are quick to give me the benefit of the doubt because my profile picture presents me as white.  My profile also makes it easy to see I am married (to a person who presents as a woman) with five children – all children who present as female.  Because I generally have privileged identities, I can choose not to worry about how my different identities are playing out.  My identities give me the advantage of “winning” because people make assumptions that are generally positive.  They also assume I am engaged in win-win conflict strategy even when I may not be.

Those with marginalized identities engaged in online conversations don’t always have this advantage.  At “best” (and this is like saying earwax jelly beans are better than vomit jelly beans for you Harry Potter fans) when we can’t see certain identities, assumptions get made to erase those marginalized identities (for example; assuming someone’s gender or sexual identity).  At worst when we CAN see someone’s marginalized identity (for example; the color of their skin or someone who has pictures of them always in a wheel chair) assumptions get made as to the approach they will take in a conflict (this presents itself with internal dialogue for those with privileges – “obviously, that individual is using a win-lose strategy here because they are only looking out for their identities and ignoring what might be in MY best interests”).  All of these assumptions are made in a split second, and often times before the person we are engaging with has a chance to write something because we look at their profile picture. When we read a comment from someone who presents differently than ourselves this is the lens (in many cases – not all) we use at least initially.

Given this dynamic, I would understand being exhausted and angry if people made these assumptions about me.  I would understand defaulting to win-lose strategies of conflict if I was constantly under attack and being oppressed in online spaces.  Especially when the entire system (including higher Ed and student affairs) is set up as a win-lose system in many ways for marginalized identities.  If my boss is engaged in win-lose strategies of conflict resolution with me, I’m kind of at a loss.  Power is everything, and we need to understand this, ESPECIALLY when discussing conflict resolution.

In conclusion, as I reflect on my privilege and power, it is important to add one more dimension to this conflict resolution repertoire: looking for lose-win strategies because of my identities.  This is the hard reality many of us with these privileges don’t want to see.  As the invisible knapsack has taught us, I can’t empower a woman without giving up my power as a man.  And although I am NOT REALLY creating a lose-win strategy for myself (because we all win when power structures are equalized and privileged systems are dismantled) I do need to understand giving up my power and privilege is the heart of the work I do as a white, cisgender, heterosexual man.  In each online conversation, I need to focus first on how I can help others win, instead of worrying about my own game.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Dialogue?  Feel free to comment!

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