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Four Paths for Conflict Resolution

Conflict is eventually unavoidable, when people have relationships. Surprisingly, lack of conflict is not always a virtue. Compliance by one person can indicate a disengagement from participation. It is not the absence of conflict that is a test of a healthy relationship, rather it is an effective process of resolution of conflict. Conflict does not make you stronger. Improperly channeled, unresolved conflict can bring personal pain, emotional stress, and even financial ruin. The one thing that will ensure that you never have resolution of conflict is when one of the parties refuses to discuss the conflict. The passage of time might remove your active thinking about the conflict, but it will never bring healing and reconciliation. The way you resolve conflict does reveal something about who you are and how well you can relate to others with whom you disagree. When there is a conflict that appears to be a stalemate – you are stuck and are not able to find a resolution that you both like, there are only four approaches to bring about resolution and establish some level of peace. Each approach has both weaknesses and strengths. Here is a brief discussion of each of these processes. All those who are in conflict and wish to have resolution will need to decide which of these options or what combinations of them will bring about peaceful results.

Decide together how to solve the conflict. Most of the time, this approach costs no money for either side of a dispute. When you need no outside help for resolution, you can maintain some level of confidentiality and control of the conversation as well as the outcome. This approach works best when you can both comfortably speak your own mind with the other. It assumes that you grasp all the legal and emotional consequences of the decisions you make together. It does not work well when one person has a pattern of making most of the decisions and the other person customarily defers to those decisions. It is particularly problematic when one or both of you do not comprehend the significance and importance of matters such as contracts, bankruptcy, taxes, business valuation, property ownership, equal opportunity, occupational safety, child custody, and other complex matters.

Hire an advocate to negotiate with the other person on your behalf. This approach is promoted by many people and is widely practiced. When you hire someone to be your advocate, you must explain to them your position and also explain what the other party’s view is of your conflict. Your advocate will likely explain how he or she can best persuade your opponent to provide you all or most of what you want. There will be significant reliance upon the laws and how a court might apply those laws to your conflict. This is an approach often used, when the two parties are not able to easily communicate with one another. You speak freely to your advocate, and then your advocate speaks to the other person’s advocate, who in turn conveys your thoughts to the person with whom you are in conflict. Then, the cycle reverses itself and continues back and forth, often for many times, until both of you have an agreement or reach an impasse. The most common advocates are attorneys. Lawyers are schooled in client advocacy. They bring their knowledge of the law along with their interpretations of how it might be applied in your particular situation. They often ask you questions which will help you clarify and firm up your position on the matters. They are committed to pursue your desired end of the conflict. These advocates frequently put forth suggestions that can be considered by both parties as they negotiate with opposing counsel on your behalf. These suggestions will then need to be explained to all parties for consideration and response. You pay for the time your attorney spends with you, his research, and his time spent negotiating with the other person’s advocate. Also, there can be considerable time spent on negotiating the written agreement to document the terms to which you have both agreed, along with the consequence of either party not complying with the terms of the final agreement, some time in the future. This process is slow and expensive, but it can eliminate a great deal of personal interaction directly with the other party. Should you have a successful negotiation as a result of this process, you have not given in to the other party or submitted to an outsider the power of deciding the outcome of the conflict.

Rely upon someone else to make the decision for both of you about how to move ahead. This approach is generally to rely upon either an individual or committee of arbitrators or the court system. The typical process begins with you hiring an advocate, usually a lawyer, who will draft the written details of your dispute. With arbitration or the court system, both parties have given up their option to find a suitable resolution working together. The great risk with this method is that it is likely that one of you will most likely gain little or nothing of your desired outcome from the conflict. The prevailing party will probably be thoroughly pleased with the result, except for what that outcome cost. As you submit to arbitration, a judge, or a jury, you have no participation in deciding the outcome for your conflict. Even when you file a lawsuit, it is likely that a judge might actually order you to mediate, before the case will be heard and decided in court. The litigation process can be surprisingly lengthy, often lasting months and sometimes years, and the time-frame for the trial will most likely be beyond the control of you, your opponent, and all your lawyers. The cost of resolution through arbitration or a court trial for a small business lawsuit can often be between the cost of a nice new car and a new home. In almost every case where there is a winner, there is also one who regrets losing the case.

Decide together with the help of a neutral party how to move past the stalemate. You can engage the services of a professional mediator to meet with you and help you identify what ways you might move away from a conflict and have a realistic, acceptable solution to your crisis. There are several advantages of this approach. With mediation, the entire process of dispute resolution lies exclusively within the control of the two parties. The mediator remains neutral in the outcome and acts as a facilitator empowering both sides to disclose what they believe is a fair minded approach to problem-solving. It is the agenda of the mediator to ensure a safe space for both parties to speak their individual desires. The terms of mediation are laid out at the onset and the job of the mediator is to make certain that they are followed throughout the process. Either party is free to cease the mediation process at any point, choosing to move back to another form for dispute resolution. The cost for mediation is typically shared equally by both parties, normally is far less than employing separate advocates to negotiate with each other, and almost always considerably less than going to court, where you have both given up all participation in deciding the outcome. A desired outcome from a mediation results in the commitment to prioritize what each party wants and needs, and looks into helping both parties achieve a desired resolution of the conflict. The mediation process usually concludes with the mediator drafting a memorandum of understanding which will be signed by both parties of the dispute. All decisions made as well as the process of mediation are always mutually agreeable by both parties. For a more detailed explanation of the mediation process, click here.


Copyright 2013 by Larry D. Ellis, Denver CO