Conflict Resolution

by Aled Davies

Choosing your approach

With such a high success rate, mediation can appear to be the answer to all your conflicts. Believe it or not, however, there are conflicts that are simply not suited to mediation and in such cases more adversarial procedures are often required. For example, the parties might not be able to reach an agreement because their ‘zones of settlement’ or their perceptions as to who is right and more powerful are too far apart.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Gandhi

Here, an adversarial approach might be useful to clarify certain rights or boundaries that help determine the parameters of a settlement zone. Furthermore, the adversarial process might be the catalyst needed to bring the parties to the table in the first place. The use of informal justice processes, such as mediation, can sometimes be open to abuse: for example, where organisations use the mediation process to avoid their responsibility for rights-based issues, such as race, age and sex discrimination.

Horses for courses

The following criteria are useful when you are evaluating a suitable and effective method for resolving conflicts within your organisation.

1. The transaction cost

All conflicts will incur costs; these can be divided into direct and indirect. What are the direct costs (legal expenses and litigation costs, cost of losing at trial, manpower and management time and so on) of getting this resolved? What are the indirect costs, such as loss of business, morale, reputation, opportunity cost and lower productivity?

2. Impacts on relationship

All conflicts have the potential to impact on relationships. Is there a need to maintain ongoing commercial or contractual relationships with the parties? Your choice of resolution method could have a significant bearing on the outcome of this.

3. Outcome

What are your desired outcomes from the resolution process? What outcomes do the parties desire? Can both parties be satisfied with the outcome? Will the parties feel it was a fair and equitable process, where there was an opportunity to air their concerns? Will they feel their interests were acknowledged and identified and that the resolution fulfilled the interests of the parties?

4. Resources available

What resources do you have available within your organisation to resolve this? Does your organisation have employees who are trained and competent to resolve conflict? Is there sufficient budget to argue your case? How much time can you and others invest in resolving this? Will you need to turn to others outside the organisation to help you resolve this?