Resolving a Dispute

This problem type is characterized by conflicting interests of different parties for some common resource. The pressing need is for a safe forum where people can feel safe to express their deepest interests (rather than merely posturing with negotiating positions) and where negotiated settlements are possible.

Solution Outline
  • There is a durable agreement among conflicting players which avoids a stalemate.
  • People pursue a solution advantageous to all parties.
  • If there is sacrifice, it feels fairly distributed.
  • If the outcome is uneven, it is a tolerable loss for the disadvantaged party.
  • There is a plan for monitoring implementation, for enforcing agreements, and for making any needed adjustments.
  • The process used maintains the wilingness of players to wokr together in the future.

How To Get There
  • Create a safe forum (norms, structure, facilitation)
  • Call for candor and advocacy
  • Highlight the common interests
  • Push for the interests behind the positions
  • Demand adherence to the rules of engagement

Bringing everyone "to the table" is often the first and most difficult step in a Dispute. The political maneuvering of players can obscure critical information and undermine negotiation. The only stable and viable path is to create the forum that encourages people to present their interests candidly and search jointly for workable solution. The players are likely to pursue more political strategies until they believe open negotiation will be to their advantage. If political wrangling is allowed to go on too long, clandestine arrangements and subtrefuge can make more reasonable negotiation almost impossible.

The hallmark of this "safe forum" is a neutral party who will enforce certain process agreements with a vengeance, but remains absolutely neutral on the outcome. Their first role may be to help the players negotiate the process rules, everything from the shape of the table to prohibitions against sarcasm and personal attack. The substance of the list is less important than the mere fact that the players have jointly created their own platform for coming together.

If there is a common authority over all the warring parties, the role of facilitation may blur into arbitration, but they would be well advised to let the parties resolve their conflict on their own as much as possible. For example, departments fighting over common resources (space, talent, money, etc.) should be forced through the process of listening, advocating, negotiating, and resolving their own conflict. The executive who jumps in too early and mandates a solution merely sows the seeds for future conflicts.

A key outcome is that the relationships among the players are not so damaged that their next conflict will be even more difficult to resolve. These problems often have relatively standard sets of players who come together repeatedly over time. Even if they are staunch enemies, they will have to agree on the rules of engagement for the next battle.