Often when I tell people I study Dispute Resolution I get a furrowed brow, followed by an sincere yet hanging “interesting…”.
Many people admit they did not know such a profession existed- or wonder at the professionalization of something everyone does, well, already. The most common response I get is: “you need to come to my workplace, or community, or visit my family”. Everyone practices conflict resolution, yet many people are unsuccessful at it. There are many reasons for that, and hence the wide-ranging body of literature and academic studies that examine it.
There are only two (maybe three) reasons you might want to hire a DR professional.
First a precursor. Conflict resolution and dispute resolution are not the same thing. Conflict resolution refers to conflict in all of it’s forms, titled by theorists as latent, emerging, and manifest. Latent conflict fizzles beneath the surface, holding potential for future eruption. Emerging conflict is when the conflict begins to escalate. And manifest conflict, also termed dispute, is the visible stage of conflict that can be anything from verbal arguments to violent acts. The common metaphor is an iceberg, at the top of the water you see the tip of the iceberg (manifest conflict), but beneath the surface the large, expansive unexplored region of the iceberg (latent & emerging conflict) remains.
Okay, so we are clarifying that dispute resolution concerns the manifest stage of conflict. Through most of Western history, the key means to resolve disputes has been through our criminal justice system. Two key reasons have brought people to the realization that alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes are needed:
1) Need for a more cost-effective means to resolve disputes
2) Need for a procedurally timely dispute resolution processes
The courts cost too much and take too long. Choosing a dispute resolution process is cheaper and faster. I did suggest there is a third reason why people want to choose dispute resolution. The third reason has to do with values, such as relationships, peace-of-mind, and conciliation. Dispute resolution processes delve into interests, the felt needs of people that lie beneath their positions. If, for instance, I felt disrespected by [insert blank person] and so I asked for a trillion dollars from them in a court-process, an ADR process should draw out the underlying need for respect and dignity that was injured, and perhaps make money less of an issue. So, you might choose dispute resolution because you value people, relationships, and reconciliation over, say, winning.
3) Values: peace-of-mind, conciliation, and relationships