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Power Imbalances

All of us are involved in difficult situations at some times in our lives. This can occur in the counselling situation, but it can also occur in our daily lives. When difficult situations occur, it can be useful to make use of counselling skills to help us in that situation. 
Many people feel uncomfortable in difficult situations, they may not like displays of aggression, feeling that they are in the middle of an argument and so on.  Many of us will try to avoid conflict situations or try to placate the people concerned, but this does not always work, so strategies for dealing with this type of situation can be useful.  Consider a few random examples of difficult decisions that can be experienced in our daily lives:
  • A customer complains aggressively about the service received in a shop.
  • A customer complains about a product they have purchased
  • Road rage
  • Someone pushes in front of us in a queue
  • Someone is verbally abusive when we accidentally walk into them
  • And so on...
All of us have experienced difficult situations at some times in our lives.
In any difficult situation, there is often a power imbalance.  In any relationship, there is power involved.  By this we mean who holds the power in a relationship and communication.  If two people are involved in a conversation and they both hold equal power, then there is no imbalance, but this is rare.


What do we mean by power imbalance? 

Well consider the following:

  • A teacher shouts at a pupil for not doing their homework. The teacher holds more power than the pupil here.
  • Two teachers are arguing about how best to run a particular course. One teacher is more experienced than the other. She may hold more power.
  • Two children argue about what game to play next. One is taller, they may have more power.
  • And so on.....
Power is influenced by a range of things such as the following:
  • Gender – can influence the power in a relationship. A male arguing with a female may have more power in some situations. Whereas in other situations, the female may have more power.
  • Intelligence – in some situations, one person in an argument may have a higher level of intelligence than the other person, so may use that intelligence to intimidate the other person.
  • Size – a large man towering above a shorter man can be intimidating for the shorter man and thereby empower the larger man.
  • Age – is an interesting one. Sometimes being older can give power.  An older man talking about his experiences to a younger person and sharing his knowledge can give greater power to the older person. But in other situations, a younger person may have more power. For example, a younger person coming into an industry may have more up to date knowledge and more useful skills than an older person, so there can be a power imbalance.
  • Experience – our experience of the world, in a job, or in a particular area of life can give us power over another.
  • Qualifications – a person’s qualifications can sometimes give them more power. “Well, yes you have a degree, but I have a post-graduate degree” etc.
  • Knowledge – of a particular topic can create power, as one person may know more than another.
When we talk about power in a relationship, we are talking about different factors, such as age, gender, and so on, that can give one person or group the upper hand in a difficult situation.  We have discussed generalities above, being larger doesn’t automatically mean you have more power in a situation as we’ll see below.


This is an extract from our Counselling Handbook.

We also have a range of other psychology eBooks, which you can view here.

Or perhaps you are interested in studying psychology?

Our tutors are more than happy to help with any advice or suggestions. You can contact them at or on 01384 442752 (UK).

Some psychology courses that may interest you -

Anger management

Crisis counselling

Conflict management

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