- 3.3

Dealing with power differences

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Ensure that both parties have the same influence over the outcome.

Solutions summary

In many disputes, one of the parties has more money, better connections, or simply more physical power. The following are practices facilitators use. Involving people A facilitator can bring in more people that have influence over the more powerful person. This can be family members, religious leaders, chiefs, elders, school teachers, or anyone else they would listen to. Neutral people who do not have a stake or interest of their own in the conflict. Learn about how to involve influential people and helping influential parties. Providing information
  • Inform about what is a fair outcome according to the law. And what the law considers fair and just behaviour of the more powerful party. Repeat if necessary.
  • Inform about religious (and/or traditional) norms. And what religious and/or traditional norms consider fair and just behaviour of the more powerful party. Repeat if necessary.
  • Explain what might happen if the more powerful person does not reasonably cooperate to find a solution. To whom can the less powerful person go? What actions can they take? What will be the outcome? The other party and the other people who want to see a reasonable outcome may go public.
  • Ask what will happen if misuse of power is exposed.
Making known what will happen
  • Be very clear about what the process looks like, what the role of the facilitator is (neutral, taking the side of justice, not parties), what interventions the facilitator might make.
  • Sensitively address the use of power openly. Ask how it can impact the fairness of the outcome.
  • Ask the more powerful party what he wants to achieve. This can help you to find out about their underlying interests.
  • Explain what a facilitator can do if power is asserted (stop process and start litigation, go public).
  • Make it public when the more powerful person does not cooperate (leaflet on bulletin board at church, mosque, etc; media like local newspapers, television, etc; other public places).
Emphasise neutrality
  • Keep emphasising neutrality so the more powerful parties do not see the facilitator as biased
  • Refer to neutral information.  Explain calmly. Do not to get into an argument.
  • General motto for the facilitator: "empower them both!"

Local solution: Conference Comments


Understand the tears (take them aside).
Be prepared to walk away from table (mediation).
Make them to feel regret appeal to feeling norms not to abuse power; show they will have to compensate in the next life for abuse.
Explain the law: what is fair: share knowledge so the powerful person is prevented from making costly mistakes.
Look behind the person (go to the boss).
Equal numbers at each side.
Understand the powerful person.

Do a thorough power analysis (before meeting), legal social norms.
Relationships (power unhappy).
(Additional posted-on comments)

How to make sure the powerful 3rd parties  neutral and no interests/benefits in the  case.

Before mediation starts (likely before meet for mediation)to understand dynamics.

Publish that powerful person has not yet solved the problem.

Go to press in country of powerful person.

Think about alternatives in advance (eg.divorcer) to give weaker party options.

Threat of litigation.

Make sure it in a win/win solution.

Appeal to norms that are part of the world (language) of  powerful person.
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Local solution: How to Cope if one party uses Power in order to get a better Deal

Give each person equal speaking time, but also keep an eye out for the amount of words and their meaning in balance with what another party says / said. (Some need more words to say the same as another).

Let people speak, but keep them in control.

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Added by: DAS

Local solution: Balancing power

A tool by Dick Allewijn (Dick Allewijn: judge, mediator and trainer in conflict resolution, The netherlands)

Ask the most powerful party about the objective of its power play - find out about its underlying interests.

Together with the most powerful party, find out what it is exactly they want to know from the less powerful party. What could the more powerful party contribute to bring the less powerful party to reason?

Find out, in exchange with the most powerful party, what (offensive) behavior by the less powerful party triggered its dominant attitude.

Address the 'power question' openly but sensitively: Who needs the other the most? Who is in charge?

- And in general the mediator's motto in these types of cases: "empower them both!"


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Added by: TISCO

Local solution: Tips to handle the problem of power imbalance

Note: This is only applicable when power imbalance occurs. It is inapplicable when parties who are disputing are in balance

  1. Use case mapping as in  to see the strengths and weaknesses of all parties
  2. Inform any addresses or NGO’s contacts to the weaker party who can help him/her to reach the point he/she expects to gain in the mediation process
  3. Study and search any information about law aspect related to the case being disputed

Remind the objectives and the benefits of the meeting to all parties

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Local solution: How to cope if one party uses power in order to get a better deal

A common and difficult to avoid problem in dispute resolution is that a party tries to use power to influence to gain an advantage for their own interest, to equalise the power balance mediators can use the following strategies:

  • Remind parties more often of the ground rules
  • Find balance among supporters and witnesses for  the two parties
  • Ensure the two parties have equal rights and opportunity for speaking as well as express opinion.
  • Protect the rights and freedom and request them to respect each other
  • Provide them with authorities to make decision independently
  • Make sure that parties sacrifice some interests to reach solution
  • Make sure that no party using their victim situation to put pressure on the other
  • Try to show them your neutrality, so that power of the two parties is balance
  • Religion reasons can be raised to assess party, who wants to use power in the wrong ways.
  • If necessary, you can find someone who has more power to prevent the using of power from party to the conflict
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Evidence from practice

Emphasize neutrality: Facilitators in Egypt, Rwanda, Mali, Egypt and Bangladesh, all use their one neutrality the equalize power differences

Religious pressure: In Egypt and Cambodia facilitators sometimes use religious arguments to warn a party who want to power in a negative way

Involving even more powerful third parties: To break the power of a party a facilitator in Cambodia would not hesitate to ask for the support of an even more powerful party. In Azerbaijan, lawyers for Praxis might approach a parties employer to try and eliminate a power imbalance. They are careful to ensure that the 3rd party is not someone who has an interest in the case, however.

Evidence from handbooks

  • Equal amount of witnesses and supporters for both parties
  • Both parties have equal speaking time and opportunity to deliver input to the process
  • Treat parties equal and demand they treat each other equal
  • Empowerment: stimulate the autonomy of parties by letting them decide
  • Make sure all parties contribute to the formulation of a solution
  • Also do not let take one party use a victim role to use power

Toolkit Mediation, Schonewille, M., 2007, p 45

Checklist empowerment

  • Are both parties equally stimulated to take part in the process?
    Did all people treat each other with respect and had all equal opportunities to contribute to the result?
  • Do all parties feel responsible for the start and continuation of the conflict?
  • Do parties know what their interests are and did they ‘discover’ this themselves?
  • Is the chosen solution developed by the parties and do both feel responsible for its success?
  • Is the agreement written in a language that both parties use themselves and can they recognize themselves in it?
  • Have you as a mediator been able to defer your own opinion and prejudices
    Is the conflict solved and do the parties comply with the agreement?

Toolkit Mediation, Schonewille, M., 2007, p 47


Evidence from literature

Reality check

Reality checking all the likely consequences of a proposed course of action, including the long term consequences of using their power unfairly during the mediation, creating doubts in the minds of the parties over ‘the  facts, the law, the evidence and their likelihood of their being successful in litigation.

Boulle L, (2001). 'Mediation: Skills and Techniques' Butterworths Skills Series, 181 p 227.


Fairness check

Reflect on whether the process is ‘fair’ after using a series of questions to focus attention on the parties’ abilities to negotiate.  

Severens, K. (1998) Mediation Manual (IINCM, 1998) (adapted by) Sourdin, T., in ‘Conciliation Processes’ LEADR – The Third Millennium Conference


Power equalisation

To achieve equalisation of power:

  • Create doubt about powers of stronger party and assist weaker party to use powers of which they were unaware
  • Intake and screening
  • Exchange of information
  • Equality of speaking time
  • Conducting dialogue through the mediator rather than directly
  • Using option cooling off period
  • Enforcement of mediation guidelines
  • Use of separate meetings
Boulle, L., & Nesic, M. (2001) Mediation: Principles, Process, Practice. Butterworths, London:UK  

Dealing with power differences

by admin on March 23, 2011

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