conflict management system design

Not all disputes require the same amount of emotional energy, stress, and time. Many organizations today deal with high volumes of conflict, yet do not have the resources (or patience!) to deal with each complaint individually. An inability to deal effectively with unhappy persons means, well, lost-customers. Internally, many staff report workplace dissatisfaction with no mechanism to complain and be listened to. Yet, conflict is a healthy, a mechanism for organizational evolution; it has many lessons to teach us. Why avoid it? Instead, many organizations are turning to conflict management system designs to efficiently handle high volumes of conflict.

Dispute System Design (DSD) is a discipline born out of the interest-based negotiation tactics of the Harvard Negotiation Project, by professors William Ury and Roger Fisher. They wrote the popular book Getting to Yes in 1981 to tell the world, in essence, that there is a better way.  A better way than positional bargaining, the divide-the-pie and put-my-stake-in-the-ground type of negotiating. Instead, negotiation needs to go beneath the surface to interests, probing the often felt but uncommunicated human needs that hide behind and animate positions.

Conflict Management Systems can delve for interests when properly implemented. They can explore the true reasons for conflict using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) tactics on an escalating scale. ADR simply refers to options other than legal processes, such as negotiation, mediation, sentencing circles, restorative justice, adjudication, and arbitration. Other options exist as well, such as joint-problem solving, collaborative events, staff training, and active listening.  A well designed conflict management system will utilize all of these processes on an sliding scale, first using the most casual, non-invasive, resource-light, and user-directed options.

What makes dispute resolution systems so effective is that not only is the design outcome interest-based, but the design process is said to be interest-based. That means that dispute system designs are not pre-fabricated for organizations- there is no one-size-fits-all. Instead, they are a collective effort. Everyone is involved in all stages of the design process, including all levels of the organizational hierarchy, all stakeholders, and all consumers. Putting their heads together, topics such as resources, needs, access, culture, and evaluation are hashed out. Many designs emerge with multiple access points, cultural congruency, ease-of-access, new technology, and training as a part of the implementation strategy. A new design is tested, tweaked, and evaluated- the design evolves as the organization changes to fit the specific context.

Not every conflict requires a big showdown. Most can be resolved using very simple informal processes. Once those are exhausted, an array of formal processes exist to handle the more challenging disputes. Some disputes are intractable (unsolvable), but a great many are absolutely resolvable with a concrete process. Good conflict management systems are often associated with good governance, that is, a public service that listens to and collaborates with citizens. Get with the 21st century, and have a dispute resolution system designed for your workplace or organization today!

Why Design a Conflict Management System Anyway?